Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blast from the Past #1 - PUKE-O-RAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Fast, loud, and retarded."
That's how Jeremy Yoho describes the sound of the band he used to front, Topeka metal-punk misfits, Puke-O-Rama and, looking back, that's probably the most accurate description possible. Raucous, beligerant, and staunchly anti-social, the band formed in the mid-90s as a trio, the brainchild of guitarist/songwriter Seth Coulter who wrote songs about worshipping Satan, rioting against the cops, hating the fire department... All normal teenage stuff. Yoho was brought in later as a vocalist and the band gave several memorable performances in basements and abandoned houses in and around Topeka/Lawrence.
"Everyone in the band but me was really pretty talented," Yoho recalls.
Blurring the lines between metal and punk was the bands calling card. They mixed grindcore and melody, chaos and collision with tight riffs, and lyrically lambasted everything from love to music, even offering dance advice to listeners.
"Don't do the pogo / When you're jumping up and down / If you do the pogo /I'll knock you on the ground," sang Yoho in the appropriately named party classic "Don't Do the Pogo".
Unfortunately, Puke-O-Rama never amounted to much. The band recorded a split demo with fellow Topeka punks Count Zero in 1995 and Yoho left the band soon after. The remaining members continued on as a trio for a bit before disbanding in the late 90s. Yoho joined the army last year.
"I spend 50% of my time sitting on a mountaintop in Egypt," he says. "Sounds mystical - but it really isn't. The air's thin and it gets mighty cold at night. Presently, I'm sitting in my federally sanctioned bedroom a little bit closer to civilization and I just woke up with a wicked hangover. I don't really drink anymore though, at least not much, so I don't know how that happened."
Puke-O-Rama's legacy, however, is undeniable.
"I heard a guitar riff on the new Metallica album that was exactly the same as one that Seth used," Yoho says. "Not kidding. I'd accuse them of ripping us off if I didn't know that there is no way in hell they've ever subjected themselves to our demo."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Brew News - Spring, 2010

There are a few things that all of my drinking buddies know about me. First, I practically had to rush home and change my pants when I noticed that thirty packs of Iron City cans had arrived at my favorite store (Murphy's, 29th and Topeka). The moment I saw them my mouth began to water with visions of hours of lakeside drinking unhindered by clumsily hiding bottles at the sound of a park ranger's truck. I'm not saying IC is the nectar of the gods, but it's a huge step up from the High Life I'm usually forced to drag with me to the lake, or the occasional dusty case of Yuengling I track down if I'm out of town.
Another thing my friends know is this: I ain't no hophead. Never been one. I've tried. Hell, I've even faked it, to no avail. It's just something about my pallette: almost every high IBU concoction I bring to my lips turns out to be a mistake, and the gnarly shape I somehow contort my face into after the first drink is (I'm told as I've never seen it) both comical and terrifying - an otherworldly cross between the Elephant Man and Jim Carey that defies logical explanation and is worthy of National Enquirer consideration. I've always defended myself by saying things like "I don't put flowers on my steak, why would I want them in my beer?", and "I'll take a Heather Ale over an Imperial IPA anyday", which is ludicrous and untrue. To me, hops are the meat of a beer, the part a patron can really sink their teeth into, and an overly hopped brew is like a steak or slab that's been burned beyond recognition, one dimensional and bland.
That said, I still get excited whenever a new huge IPA hits theshelves, and, though reluctantly, I'll usually end up buying it, dragging it home and forcing myself through it in the hopes of being pleasently surprised. I like being pleasently surprised. It's pleasent. And so, predictably, on my last run to the store I nabbed a few singles that looked promising and sat down determined to approach them with an open mind. Here we go...

Ranger India Pale Ale, New Belgium Brewing Compnay, Fort Collins, CO

Honestly, you could see this coming a few years ago when New Belgium released the Mighty Arrow Pale Ale in their sampler 12 pack. It was obvious that they were testing the water for something new and you could tell that a simple pale ale, while good, wasn't their ultimate goal. The funny thing is, I spoke to a very nice representative at New Belgium about the Mighty Arrow at the time of it's initial release and she told me very enthusiastically that it was "The big one, a whopping 35 IBUs!" which, at the time was quite high for NB. After all, I got a little pissed when they drastically raised their prices during the hop shortage a few years ago because Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat aren't exactlyhyper hopped brews, so what gives? But bygones are bygones and I dropped my ill-advised boycott of NB a while ago and I'm glad I did, otherwise I would have missed out on Ranger.

At 70 IBUs and 6.5% ABV Ranger is pretty ambitious for an American Belgian style brewery, particularly one as high profile as NB. Ommegang has nothing like it. Even Boulevard's Single Wide is only 59 BUs, so Ranger seems like a great leap forward. It's like if Anheuser Busch came out with some sort of slightly hoppy ale or dumped a bunch of lime juice into Bud Light.... Oh, yeah, nevermind.

I fell in love with Ranger pretty quickly after pouring it into my trusty Old Style mug. It's a beautiful looking beer, strongly copper in color and sporting a fluffy pillow of tasty foam that laces the glass with crinoline etchings of delicious residue as the beer sinks sip by sip. It's incredibly drinkable, and while the hop presence dominates the smell and taste of the beer it doesn't attack the pallette. The bitterness is slight, just a mild tingle towards the end of each sip that tickles the back of the tongue. Hops are the dominate taste, but Ranger doesn't fray the tastebuds with a shocking hop bath. Instead, due to an intense dryu hopping with Cascade hops, it's almost like a hop flavored amber rather than a typical IPA. It's a fun beer to both to drink and look at, and surprisingly sessionable - exactly what I've come to expect from NB.

Something unexpected, however, (at least for me) is a enjoyable Imperial IPA. Unlike a lot of people, I've never been impressed with the "Imperial" tag brewers have been slapping on their brews. To me, it's a great example of the nauseating self-propaganda techniques ad-execs use to make a quick buck, but hey, there's enough simpletons out there to make it profitable, so whatever. To me, it ain't Imperial unless it's wearing white armor and walking around the Death Star. That said...

Hop Czar Imperial IPA, Bridgeport Brewing Company, Portland, OR

It would be unfair to say that I was underwhelmed by the Czar. But it is Bridgeport's fault for calling it Imperial. When I hear Imperial expectations are raised. That's the point of calling it Imperial. I get prepared for an experience. It's irrelevant, really, whether it's good or bad - I'm looking for something memorable. Which is not what you get with the Czar. Don't get me wrong, you get a great beer, one that you'll want to drink regularly. And at 7.5% ABV and 85 IBU's you can drink three or four of these a night a few times a week and be perfectly happy. Fulfilled even. But you're not going to be blown away.

In many ways Hop Czar epitomizes Bridgeport itself. It's a great, flavorful beer that doesn't over-achieve or over-shoot it's boundries. It's recieved good reviews but nothing stellar, and provides a nice back bone for a style that's been plundered and pillaged like a Viking conquest over the last ten years. The IPA and Imperial IPA may be close to running it's course and it's nice that both of these powerhouse breweries have finally contributed their two cents to the conversation.

Well, that's it for now. Be back next month with a few more thoughts and such, and maybe one of those brewery visits I promised last time. Cheers! - jack

Spoon, Transference, Merge Records, 2010

From the beginning Spoon has always seemed like a career rather than a rock band, and leader Britt Daniel has always seemed like more of an investment manager than a rocker, more Colonel Parker than Elvis, more Malcolm Mclaren than Sid Vicious. Spoon has been the next big thing for the last fifteen years but have never pulled their tour van over the hump, and there's a good reason for that. Spoon has always epitomized what people distrusted about indie rock - they're pretentious, pregnant with their own self esteem, and hung up on a smug confidence in their own abilities.
Like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, bandleader Britt Daniel has always wanted to "make it" in the real world, and has had a sense of entitlement to rock stardom that never sat well with the listening public. Even as the biggest and most respected indie rocker in the land Daniel has seemed unhappy, ready to compromise whatever necessary in his desire to transcend his meager, but dedicated fanbase.
Spoon has never made a great album. They've done some great songs but have never been able to hold it together long enough to really wow someone. Until now. While Transference, their seventh full length, may not be a 'This is Our Music" statement, it is a "My my, hey hey" kiss off to the both the haters and lovers that have expected so much out of the band. Dropping most of the pretensions that have plagued the band, Daniel strips the sound down to the basics and does what he does best: basic, rooty rock ditties that are flightly enough to dance to but still have the teeth to stick in your head all the live long day. It's quirky without being weird, poppy without pandering and it's the first Spoon album that just seems like a Spoon album, rather than an attempt to set or defy trends. Daniel is not a trendsetter. He's not a rebel either. He's not a lyrical genius, and he's not a guitar god. He never has been. He's the leader of a decent rock band of mild influence and appeal. For once he seems to be comfortable with that. Now he can finally get to work. - Stacks