Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beertember 2010!

So I've been backlogged with good brews (and some far-ranging music)'s an installment of beer reviews from the late August to September period. Look out for another beer installment SOON! And don't forget to fight for your right to choose your beer. Corporate beer sucks! Indie beer, baybee! Power to the people, not to shareholders! Remember, my reviews range from a 1 (infected toilet water) to 5 (the fountain of youth). So, a 3 would be a decent (but not outstanding) beer. Got it? And a-one, and a-two, a beer for me, and a beer for you! Hah!

CASTELLO (Italy) - 2.0
Hmm. A thin, pallid appearance and major skunky odor are immediately apparent with this Italian lager. Not a good place to start. Taste is weak, watery, and, well, bland. There's little to grasp taste-wise. I know there are some good craft brews from Italy, but I've yet to encounter one, unfortunately! Awful stuff here.

A "Belgian-style India Pale Ale"? Now that's something I've never had before. Kudos to Great Divide for creativity. Anyhow, Belgica pours a non-threatening pale gold (like a lager), but the sweet and spicy floral notes are prominent and welcoming. My first taste landed me headfirst on the spice train -- warm and peppery. with an outlying hint of citrus underneath. Definitely one for the more adventurous, but quite delicious.

This cloudy brown ale I'd never seen nor heard of, but it packs a wicked punch. Starting with the endearingly cool "sea monster" bottle art with local legend on the label doesn't hurt. But what matters most is the taste, and "Rocky's Revenge" hit me straight away with a strong nutty, hoppy kick. There's some chocolate notes, too, most definitely, but none of the coffee-like tones of a porter. It's sweet and malty, but, like, heavy, man. A real winner and a unique beer.

BECK'S OKTOBERFEST (Germany) - 3.5
This malty red-amber brew pours with solid lacing, and a rich, yeasty biscuit toastiness upon initial sips. Not really a complex beer, but more than pleasing to my palate. Good showing, especially from the usually sub-par Beck's label.

CHIMAY - TRIPEL (Belgium) - 5.0
Poured into my ale goblet with a rush of carbonation and a sweet, fruity aroma. Very appealing and attractive! The cloudy, golden appearance shows plenty of yeasty sediment, too, and the first taste is a rich and spicy flavor, followed by a slight alcohol presence. Coriander, clove, and candy sugar also come through in this complex and perfectly-done Belgian abbey ale. The hoppy "rolling" finish is just icing on the cake. Absolutely a beautiful and delicious beer!

DARK HORSE BREWING - Perkulator Coffee Doppelbock (Marshall, MI) - 3.0
A cloudy, opaque amber at first pour, this hearty brew smells of sweet malts and roasty chocolate coffee. Initial taste is a palatable sweetness, tempered by an almost fruity character. Maybe a hint of raisin or spice with a final wash of alcohol. Certainly not as coffee-oriented or intense as I'd expected. Love the bottle art, though!

Pours a rich, amber-gold with plenty of head and lacing. This nice 7.2% ABV lager has a nicely floral nose and a balanced malty flavor profile -- not too challenging or challenging but certainly enjoyable and easy-going. A good, solid beer with a surprising alcohol kick.

The ornate, busy, and artful label design is fitting for this opaque golden ale with a brisk 9% ABV content. The taste is rich, malty, and sweet with floral, fruity overtones and a hop-edged finish. A complex flavor that's pleasing and surprisingly palatable. Superb!


Opaque, cloudy red-amber with average to medium lacing. Poured this one into a small wine goblet. First whiff is a sweet candy, some clove, spice, and then a profound jab of alcohol burn. At 10% ABV, this one's definitely a sipper. Faithful to the Belgian style, but substantially more assertive. Quite tasty, but perhaps a mite too heavy-duty to really enjoy often.

Rage - "Strings To A Web" album

Well, this little-known (at least on these shores) veteran German metal act has been around for 24 years now, and that likely explains their predilection for classic thrash and melodic metal. Sure, it's a total stereotype, but these guys bring a really strong production, excellent musicianship, and some tight guitar solos and buzzsaw riffs to the table. It's a shame they've yet to "break" America, as they're every bit as good as big names like Megadeth or (cough cough) Metallica. Granted, there are some sappy, silly tracks here, too, that mar the experience. Witness the well-played "Into The Light", which comes far too close to bad mainstream metal, with downright awful lyrics. Maybe there's something lost in the translation from German to English? On a whole different level, "Fatal Grace" is a brief interlude worthy of a schmaltzy adult contemporary recording -- Kenny G, anyone? Nah, me neither.

Nonetheless, "Strings To A Web" is a fun album to listen to -- not too heavy, and just melodic enough to catch the ear. Just don't listen to the lyrics, and you'll be in for a treat of (mostly) old-school heavy metal, clean and clear with a well-developed sense of melody. Rock on, dudes. (Sonic Unyon Metal)


Rage official website

David Helpling & Jon Jenkins - "The Crossing" CD

With mountainous landscapes featured prominently on the cover, and a title like "The Crossing", one would expect to find either a dramatic film score, or a gentle and lulling ambient "new age" recording. Or, in the case of this third collaboration between ambient film music composer Helpling and prog-rock-inspired electronic artist Jenkins, a little bit of both.

As is apparent from the initial track, this won't simply be another album of pleasant soundscapes or sleepytime background music. With plenty of dynamic percussive thunder and deep tapestries of synths and melodic guitars, Helpling and Jenkins craft upbeat and inspiring instrumental soundtracks that convey crisp and cinematic visions. It's a moody music, with moments of introspection that build into expressive landscapes of wonder, mystery, and bliss. "The Crossing" isn't spacious in the cosmic sense, rather it's an organic, earthly journey. I can envision watching vast herds of wildlife from a mountaintop, with brisk winds blowing over the plains. A lovely album of meditational soundtracks with a rock power and ambient disposition. (Spotted Peccary)

Deep Exile - official site of Helpling & Jenkins' collaborations

David Helpling's official site

Jon Jenkins' official site

>wirewall< - "Terminal Man" CDR

With what sounds to me like a cross between the old BBC Radiophonic Workshop electronic experiments of the 60's and harsher underground noise (think "Dr. Who" theme meets Merzbow at his most ear-draining), this mysterious project contains some of the more abrasive sound I've heard in some time. Contained in a deluxe DVD-sized case with obscure art, >wirewall<'s seemingly freeform electronic textures are jagged and difficult, with swollen shards of digital feedback alongside analogue synth burbles and gurgles. The initial track, "electrode", is packed with wicked bursts of static and squealing pulses. The rest of the album isn't exactly easy listening, either. "memristor" is lower key, but still a clot of alien electronica with disorienting machine whines, whirrs, and proto-computer gibberish. "Terminal Man" is recommended only for those who favor chaos and noise, so fans of tuneful sounds approach with caution here. (Cohort Records)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Leonard Cohen - "Bird On A Wire" DVD

This is a lost documentary/tour film of Cohen's 1972 European tour, salvaged from damaged tapes and rusty film boxes, and consequently lovingly and meticulously restored by original director Tony Palmer himself. It's a gorgeous and gritty portrait of Cohen and his entourage, captured at a prime moment in time.

Most notable here are the 17 intimate performances by one of music's most literate wordsmiths, including classics like the poignant "Suzanne", "Sisters Of Mercy", "Who By Fire?", and "Chelsea Hotel". In-between songs, we get to see Cohen assailed by journalists, adoring fans, and a plethora of flirtatious and accommodating beauties. Seriously, Cohen seemed to have a way with the ladies! But I digress. He's also seen writing his poetry, being interviewed for radio and press, and traveling with his bandmates. His improvised stage banter and spontaneous songwriting is inspiring, like his serenading the defective stage amplifier in Berlin.

Truly, this one could've been a holy mess, but credit is due to Palmer and his team, as this film is as good, cohesive, and immersive a tour document as I've ever seen. It's ripe with interesting moments, intimate conversations, and some amazing and timeless songwriting and performances by one of the masters. Simply a mesmerizing film that succeeds on several levels and shows Cohen as not only as a brilliant artist, but a down-to-earth human. Highest recommendations. (The Machat Company via MVD Visual)

Leonard Cohen official site

Negura Bunget - "Virstele Pamintului" CD

This veteran pagan black metal outfit from Romania has definitely evolved far beyond the stereotypical with this album, which as I understand is their first with a new lineup and new vocalist. Exploring the band's native roots with plenty of synthesizers and folk melodies, "Virstele Pamintului" opens with the surprisingly atmospheric soundtrack of "Pamint", which comes complete with flutes and a very Earthly, primitive vibe. Only within the final couple of minutes plus does it erupt into a more traditional black metal sound. Recorded in a secluded forest, "Virstele Pamintului" roughly translates to "Age Of The Land/Earth", and indeed that concept is evident throughout this diverse and visionary album.

Often mixing pagan folk, progressive rock, black metal, and symphonic elements within their tracks, Negura Bunget have created a conceptual monster here. The album flows from track-to-track as a whole, so choosing individual cuts to comment on seems fruitless. Suffice to say, Negura Benget bring out non-traditional instruments like flute and xylophone to add mood to their aggressive and epic metal. It's as if early Dead Can Dance met up with Watain and had a wicked jam -- that worked. I give these guys credit, as they are certainly expanding the language of black metal. This album is a true journey, ripe with medieval adventure, drama, and maybe a little bloodlust. Yes, these guys have more to offer than just blastbeats and juvenile aggression. Kudos to them for breaking the mold, and convincing me to listen multiple times!
(Code666/Aural Music)

Negura Bunget site


Christian Mistress - "Agony + Opium" CD

Hailing from Olympia, Washington, this new band is comfortable skirting the metal trends of the day (or indie/post-punk as Olympia's known best for). Instead, they focus on classic, American-style hard rock -- the tried and true metal of the late 70's before the glam got in the way. They've been endorsed by Fenriz of Darkthrone (which may or may not mean something to you), but with the charismatic and distinctive vocals of Christine Davis, they're destined to make a name for themselves anyway, I'd say.

They throttle their way through the first 5 tracks before slowing it down on the ethereal and earthy "Omega Stone". "Agony + Opium" is only 6 songs and 28 minutes, but the group's dirty, sweaty proto-metal is convincing and harkens back to the days when metal meant leather jackets and cigarettes. Convincing, raw, and untamed music from a time gone by. Or are Christian Mistress paving the way for a new renaissance? (20 Buck Spin)

Christian Mistress site

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rudy Adrian - "Distant Stars" CD

New Zealand-based composer Adrian is a veteran of soundtracks and ambient synthesizer music, and this release turns another new leaf for the prolific artist. His most recent works have been stunningly evocative and atmospheric homages inspired by terrestrial landscapes, but this one aims much higher. As the title refers, this is Adrian's extended work exploring the heavens.

Interstellar influences in electronic music have been more than well-documented, from the 60s German synth-sequencer brigade (Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, for example) and on through recent works from such artists as The Orb or Pete Namlook's FAX recordings. But seldom does it work as well as Rudy Adrian's deep, mysterious, and contemplative driftworks. Tracks like the 15-minute "Le Songe Du Singe" are truly "space music", as they approximate the infinite expanse of the abyss with a sense of wonder, awe, and sometimes trepidation (as in the foreboding sci-fi textures of "Netherworlds"). It's a successful journey that ends well with the relaxing freefall of "Entering The Temple Of Haruka Kawagishi". "Distant Stars" is an album of sparkling, otherworldly, and well-crafted ambient sounds to soak in and drift away with. (Lotuspike)

Rudy Adrian site