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volume 10 issue 2 february



Coming back to beer After a long holiday season and many, many bottles, flutes and flagons of homemade hard cider, sparkling fruit wines, cysers, meads and bourbons, beer is now back in my glass. This month I thought I’d reflect on the reasons beer keeps me coming back. After my malt beverage break, my favorite commercial beers are again tasting transcending, poignant and exphoto by brian laurent actly as remembered. And as eviby Weston Eaton denced by Michigan’s constantly increasing demand, interest and expertise in beer, I am not alone in my passion for beer. Simply put, beer is meant to be. After all, it’s made from products more commonly associated with bread and cereal than alcoholic beverages. Cracked kernels of barley and wheat are soaked in hot water, extracting converted malt sugars from the grains in order to make beer. The porridge is then boiled, spiced with hops, fermented with yeast, packaged and served. Very rustic, bready and infamously simple, beer has been closely coupled with food since its evolution from early forms of bread. Just as human diets organically evolved in conjunction with the demands set forth by regional climate and culture, beer grew out of the elements of its day. Anthropological arguments abound with the possibility alcohol, fermented from wild and later domesticated grains, transitioned hunter and gatherer cultures to agrarian society. Since then, many views have been adopted on beer. From the Puritan scorn of consumption to the fetishized idiosyncrasies of today’s beer geeks, beer spans time and culture like few other foods or beverages. Beer’s evolution is hardly over. Especially in Michigan-based breweries, boundaries are being sacked. Things may be getting a little ridiculous (see Short’s Uber Goober Oatmeal Stout), but within these porous boundaries, everyone can find something they will like. Of course, I tend to discourage static ideas of personal preference, such as “like” and “dislike” regarding food, in favor of a more dynamic continuum of evaluation. For example, instead of “disliking,” say, Imperial Stouts or even American Pales Ales, I tend to believe critics simply may not be ready. Uncer tainty plays a large role in the artistic, and therefore human, character of craft beer. Beer advocates like Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and or our own Fred Bueltmann and Garry Boyd of New Holland Brewery and HopCat, respectively, help us come to terms

with these divergent concepts of beer by focusing on something we can all agree on: great tasting beer is even better with fresh, local food. These cultural emissaries will take the time to tell you beer is an eating experience and an indelible part of food culture. They may go as far as to tell you enjoying beer is implicit in one’s daily choices of quality over quantity, enjoyment over infatuation and modesty over pretentiousness. A couple afternoon hours sitting in the plush barstools at HopCat sipping fresh local rarities and picking over a couple choice entrees, and you’ll know what I mean. As evidenced by a culinarily-inspired interest in beer, West Michigan’s beer culture is certainly growing. What defines “beer culture?” I think we can best answer that question by looking first at the changes in preferences and knowledge of all ages of local beer drinkers. Remember when you were 21? There’s a chance you we enjoying beer for its flavor, mystique and soothing attributes, but most likely you were drinking Icehouse in order to get buzzed. I’m sure by now, however, you’ve noticed a change, especially in West Michigan: your cronies formerly known for Coors and Bud drinking are now enjoying Huma-Lupa-Licious, Night Tripper and Centennial IPAs. Case pur-

West Michigan’s beer culture is certainly growing. chases put off for six-packs. Dinner enjoyed instead of horsed down after the oncoming bout of American Pilsner-derived hunger. Folks like Boyd and Bueltmann, along with progressive distributors, event promoters and retailers, drive this interest by first making traditional and contemporary classics ubiquitously available throughout the state and then passing the torch of culinary enjoyment. Framing this culture on “Wine Culture,” or the awareness of enjoying the finer things in life, beer starts where wine culture leaves off. Limits to wine, critics might ask? Well, yes. For one, the sheer high alcohol levels of either red or white delivers its drinker from an active to restful state of being. And after weeks on end of celebrating, eating, drinking and napping, its time some of us got back to whatever it was we were doing before it started to get cold out and bedtime moved up three hours. Ultimately, beer can be taken with you on active jaunts, getting us what’s needed out on the snowshoe trail or walking through the dense maple and pine forests during this quiet time of year. And when you’re out there, plodding along, possibly working up a cold sweat hauling and stacking split hardwood for the evening’s fire, beer has the added bonus of quenching your thirst, furnishing a few needed calories and subtly warming your core. The quality of beer now available locally allows us all to partake like a true connoisseur, so find something you think you may like and enjoy. I stress local here, as local most often means fresh. Beer has become a bit fetishized as of late, but don’t let the hordes of young beer geeks stunt your beer growth. Trends keep excitement alive and spur innovation, but today’s rate of beer invention far outpaces my purchasing power, at least. Beer shelves and tap handles can be daunting, but nothing that the human element can’t guide you through. When in doubt, ask what’s fresh, local and tasting good. So head out soon to one of the area’s many taprooms, or even the Fifth Annual Michigan Brewer’s Guild Winter Beer Festival, to be held Feb. 27 at Fifth Third Ballpark, and treat yourself to a beer – nature’s original beverage.


ODD BLOOD SECRETLY CANADIAN After hearing this record all the way through for the first time, I loudly proclaimed it to be the best thing I’ve ever heard. Where first impressions are concerned, Odd Blood is an all-time classic. The early buzz was that Yeasayer had gone dance-pop. The first single, “Ambling Alp,” offered little in the way of contradiction; with its off-the-wall drum triggers and synth-heavy riff, the track plays bigger and catchier than anything off the band’s sensational debut, the trippy, indie-goes-Eastern All Hour Cymbals. I doubt anyone saw this coming. I mean, this is a fucking dancefloor record. No less than six of these 10 tracks seem flat-out designed to shake your rump. Even now as I type this with track six (“Love Me Girl”) playing in the background, my ass and feet will not be still. At least now I understand what they were doing co-headlining that gig with MGMT a couple years back. At the time it seemed an unlikely pairing. Maybe they were startled at the massive reception those scraggly disco mutts received, at how many of the skinny hipster kids were out there on the floor, not just nodding and sucking down Heinekens, but dancing. They must have taken notes. Odd Blood isn’t quite a revolutionary piece of work, as was my first assessment, but a transformative one. These are talented musicians, sure, that much was clear from the start. Less so, however, was the pure vocal ability of lead singer Chris Keating. His clear, powerful croon steers each and every one of these tracks. “I Remember” is good sap, the kind of overly emotional ballad that can only be saved by a legendary performance; Keating’s commitment gives it wings. “Madder Red” balances its stuck-in-your-brain falsetto chorus with gorgeous verse. It might sound like a stretch, but Keating's voice at times brings to mind Andy Bell – even more so when placed in this kind of club setting. Erasure's other half, the brilliant Vince Clarke, is probably owed a debt of gratitude here as well (that's a compliment, by the way). Some fans will hear this stuff and cringe – the same thing happened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last year when It’s Blitz came out. Maybe there’s something in the water in Brooklyn, some tasteless, undetectable substance that gives their young rock musicians disco envy. Personally, I tend to view a radical shift like this as ballsy, whether I like it or not. This time, I happen to like it very much. Now, where did I leave my platform boots…–Andrew Watson


It’s too easy to listen to Real Estate’s hazy, dusk-lit take on beach-pop, and dismiss its classicist leanings as derivative. These days, everything derives from something that existed before it – especially pop music. Lead singer Martin Courtney floats by on the same kind of dreamy, washedout psychedelia that Brian Wilson once used to remove himself from common society – the difference is that this kind of stuff now has its own aisle at Best Buy. Real Estate, however, is all the better for it. Certainly some ad exec will leech on to one of these gorgeous, shimmering tracks and use it to sell Chryslers. Perhaps that’s what Courtney had in mind all along.–AW


SCREAMWORDS: LOVE IN THEORY AND PRACTICE SIRE In contrast to their last album, 2007’s Venus Doom, and its metal-leaning tendencies, Finnish “love metal” band HIM return with their most pop album yet. Unlike Doom’s decidedly longer tracks, every song here runs between three and four minutes, and big-time ballads like “Disarm Me (With Your Loneliness)” and “Scared To Death” bring the band’s keyboards back in full-force. Frontman Ville Valo has never sounded so dynamic, displaying his gorgeous range with all the goth-y brooding fans have come to adore. The guitars stay hard and driving for most of the up-tempo set (lead single “Heartkiller,” “Like St. Valentine,” etc.) drawing comparisons to A.F.I. or The Cure for their bright leads and acoustic runs, while maintaining their European synthsoaked signature.–Eric Mitts


TRANSFERENCE MERGE Fans of Britt Daniel have already found or purchased copies of this record and are hereby excused from finishing this review. You all know what to expect from the guy and are, I’m sure, quite pleased with his latest effort. As for you masses, many of whom may have heard and loved 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, be warned! This is not Ga Ga: The Sequel. Transference is loaded with Spoon-ish rock; the band’s dry, heavily rhythmic take on modern indie is a wonderfully unique sound. There really is no mistaking them. This record, however, is significantly less immediate than its predecessor. You newbies might have to chew on it for awhile before really tasting it. Patience…–AW


DARK SIDE OF THE MOON iTUNES I’m no Pink Floyd fanatic, but it’s worth mentioning that I spent a good decade or so falling asleep at night to Dark Side of the Moon. That sounds somewhat derogatory, I guess, but is intended as a most sincere compliment. It is a historic album. Re-interpreting it honestly is a delicate task. Luckily, the Lips remain respectful to the nature of the songs without catering to them. Clearly, this is a Flaming Lips project. That said, their “Us and Them” carries a fragile emptiness that suits the song expertly. “Any Colour You Like” takes on a brilliant, shrieking funk persona. I was half-expecting schtick and got an honest-to-goodness love letter instead. Oh, to see them perform this on stage…–AW