Tuned In Brewed In reviews some beer-friendly new albums.
By Brian Kaufenberg
Music for this article was provided by Electric Fetus. Be sure to visit Electric Fetus’ Twin Cities, Duluth or St. Cloud locations and help support your local, independent record store.
Albums You May Have Missed
More than ten years since the sudden passing of their two-year-old son Kaidin, Craig and Connie Minowa have yet to complete the journey that is Cloud Cult. It began as grieving, a kind of recorded eulogy to their son, then extended inward in an examination of the conflicting emotions of hate, anger, love, sorrow and joy a person can feel all at once. With the birth of their second and third children, there has been healing. On their newest album Love, the band continues their journey by supporting others facing similar pains.
While Minowa’s message that “you can’t know beauty if you don’t know pain” and Cloud Cult’s distinctive sound—candy-sweet lullabies shifting to tornadoes of whirling strings, forceful guitar riffs and crashing percussion in an instance—are unchanged, Love extends outward to those facing their own hardships, offering lessons pieced together from each of the albums over the years.
“You’re the Only Thing in Your Way” is a quiet ballad of self-affirmation flowing over from the optimism of Light Chasers. “1X1X1” sweeps you off the ground in a hurricane of strange power hearkening back to Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus. “Complicated Creation” is the desperate plea for meaning heard on “Will of a Volcano” from Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes). “Meet Me Where You’re Going” is a sweet profession of love—childish, pure, selfless yet grasping, and altogether lovely. “Good Friend” is a triumphant anthem of perseverance through friendship.
It’s hard to wholly comprehend what Connie and Craig Minowa have been through, but we too have our burdens. For those who wonder how they will endure, Cloud Cult’s heartening answer is on the cover of the album—Love.
The Right Brew: Central Waters Happy Heron Pale Ale with its balance of sharp bitterness with delicate hop aromas and is a perfect tribute to Cloud Cult, who, like Central Waters, pride themselves on environmental sustainability.
David Bowie’s album Heroes was released in 1977, recorded entirely in Berlin, and became widely regarded as one of Bowie’s greatest albums. Thirty-six years later, The Next Day was released to millions of fans that had accepted Bowie’s unofficial retirement. The album’s artwork is of the cover of Heroes blocked out by a stark white box with plain text reading, “The Next Day,” a radical attempt to turn the page on Bowie’s storied past in order to begin a new chapter. What Bowie delivers is an album focusing on the present situation and what the next day holds.
While the album’s first single, “Where Are We Now?” has the fragility of an aged Bowie returning to Berlin after the fall of the wall, taking stock of his situation in life, don’t believe it is a true reflection of Bowie vocal range. His voice is remarkably strong, something not to be taken for granted as he turned 66 this year, and “Valentine’s Day” brings us Bowie in total 70s glam rock glory, demonstrating that “Where Are We Now?” is a moment of acting rather than autobiography.
Bowie explores the sinister nature of celebrity status with all its trappings of egotism and self-image on “The Stars Are Out Tonight.” He cuts through the superficiality of it, the plastic veneer of fame, but does so with the contradictory hope of discovering an everlasting life, crying, “We will never be rid of these stars / but I hope they live forever!”
While The Next Day is innovative and forward thinking, there are numerous echoes to the quintessential Bowie of Heroes. It might be best that he is unable to wipe out his past entirely, though, since without the past there cannot be a “next day.”
The Right Brew: Like the Berlin Wall, Heroes is gone; The Next Day is here. Crack open an Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock to celebrate Bowie’s return.
Albums Worth the Hype
James Blake’s music is as full-grown as his soulful voice, both of which are beyond his 24 years. With his first album, Blake pioneered a genre of post-dub pop that turned heads. His music deals with the heaviness of love, both romantic and familial, and is overwhelming introspective. With Overgrown, Blake seems to recognize that the intensity of his music is perhaps over grown for his age.
The album’s first single “Retrograde” is a post-dub R&B tune with a sinister crescendo of the synthesizer echoing in our chests like a distorted organ in an abandoned church. The crisp, electronic drumbeats contrast Blake’s soulful humming dispersing into the cavernous space of the album. “Retrograde” delves into the deepest regions of the mind, turning over layers, leaving us vulnerable to whatever is uncovered. Likewise “Digital Lion” featuring Brian Eno clashes the gospel soul refrains with the synthetic percussion beats and processed organ chords ebbing in and out.
What Blake conveys with the contrast between the clattering percussion and the moments of soulful harmonies is a cluttered mind overwhelmed with external noise attempting to grasp an emotion felt clearly for just a moment in the heart. Amid the clanging stream of unrelenting thoughts comes a moment of remedial clarity of feeling, which we try to sustain as long as we can before it collapses back into the din of reason.
This album is locked in a mind deep in thought and is oppressively internal. It yearns to give an unconditional, selfless love so it can be free from the over analysis and second-guessing, but can never fully escape the clutch of reason.
The Right Brew: Pick up a beer from Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing, whose names like Krankshaft, Flywheel, and Iron Works which call to mind the industrial din present on Overgrown that can drown out a person’s thoughts.
Coming off of their critically acclaimed album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, widely recognized as their best effort yet, many wondered if Phoenix had spent all of their creative capital. The band seems to be playfully throwing up their hands and declaring bankruptcy by selling off their “assets” (71 sketches and demos) on the deluxe edition of their new album.
In an interview with MTV News, Phoenix described how they decided on the title Bankrupt! while searching for a word that was “frightening and heroic.” Bankrupt! forces a person to the precipice, where they are either petrified or completely enlivened (mtv.com). It results from failure, which in some cases is enough to cripple a person’s will to take risks. But at the same time, bankruptcy is starting new from square one, a prospect that can light the fire of creativity in a person.
Though not reinventing their synth-pop sound, Bankrupt! is far from being broke of creative capital. “Trying to Be Cool” and “Chloroform” are gritty, hip-swaying R&B tracks that adds depth to the rest of the album, while distorted bass lines and thunderous drums drive anthems like “The Real Thing” and “Don’t” until they fully open up with cathedral-filling organ blasts.
Fans will undoubtedly be pleased with Bankrupt!, as it successfully climbs out of the shadow of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix to stand on its own as another great Phoenix album.
The Right Brew: We’ve been waiting for the release of this album since Issue 2 of The Growler, but Two Brothers Domaine DuPage, an American translation of a French Country Ale, is still the ideal choice for the pop-rock anthems of Phoenix.
What to Watch For
Three years since High Violet, The National announced their sixth full-length studio album Trouble Will Find Me will be released in May. On their previous albums, the band from Cincinnati, Ohio addressed the social isolation and the resulting anomie from day-to-day life in the city.
Their songs tell the story of ordinary people at dinner parties, lovers’ squabbles over insignificant concerns, and people watching television with dulled senses. The lyrics are densely packed, often cryptic, and filled with menacing symbolism (“spiders,” “terrible love,” “ghosts,” “SoHo riots,” and “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains” to list a few examples). Perhaps the mood of their music is best summed up by the title of their second album, “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.”
Lead singer Matt Berninger’s vocals can sound apathetic and dejected, but a search for meaning is murmuring underneath the surface, which creates the dramatic tension in their songs. The methodic guitar strums seem to countdown time on a metaphysical clock, while the lush strings, horns and echoing drums impart an epic quality to each second and drive the drama forward.
The Right Brew: The understated Ohio-based Great Lakes Brewing’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is a great choice to pair with The National’s music. The beer is dark, complex and bittersweet and its namesake as mysterious and tragic as the themes on The National’s previous albums.
If it is possible for a band to perfectly embody a subculture, Vampire Weekend has done so with their brand pop rock. Their debut album doesn’t just sound, but feels like an East Coast Ivy-League campus; their second album exudes the confidence and exuberance of an upperclassman in college.
What is admirable about Vampire Weekend’s second album Contra are the band’s experimental innovations to push their sound, bursting with verbose word play and clean-cut melodies, toward its logical limits. Songs like “White Sky” and “Californian English” are wonderfully challenging and bring a slightly bizarre twist to their music, achieving a distinctive sound while maintaining the essence of Vampire Weekend.
The first two singles “Diane Young” and “Step” off their new album due out May 7, Modern Vampires of the City, suggest the band is continuing to experiment, while maintaining the fundamental spirit of Vampire Weekend. “Diane Young” is perhaps the most experimental track to date, a lo-fi, warped rock n’ roll tune that forgoes the clean-cut instrumentals and academic character of Vampire Weekend’s typical songwriting.
“Step” is more in tune with the Vampire Weekend of their debut album. With a sophomoric understanding of life’s hardship, “Step” stumbles through the miasmatic fog of post-break up melancholy, a stage of every relationship that inevitably ends up with the broken-hearted boy begging for his sweetheart to take him back. Like a “modest mouse,” he is “stronger now,” ready to take on the world, but he can’t do it alone.
If these two songs are an indication, Modern Vampires of the City will be the next in a line of contagious pop albums from Vampire Weekend that continue to challenge their fans through experimentation.
The Right Brew: Hailing from New York City, Sixpoint Brewing’s Bengali Tiger with its bright hop bite and malty sweetness is a perfect pairing for NYC-based Vampire Weekend’s newest album.