Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – It’s a Corporate World

The use of electronics in music tends to go one of two ways.  It can either be so overwhelming that, unless you love the use of electronics, it is far too much.  Or, it can add amazing depth to create something really great.  One of the best shows I ever attended featured Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy.  It was held at a minor league baseball stadium in the Bronx.  I had a love for Sigur Ros and a respect for Bjork; however, I was so blown away by Bjork that she quickly became a favorite.  Aside from the fun outfits, stringed instruments, and fire/fireworks, there were two men doing her electronics.  I distinctly remember two instances when I was amazed by what they were doing.  At one point, one of the men had small microphones attached to his hands. He began to create a sound by running his hands through the other man’s hair.  In the other instance, one of them had microphones attached to his feet. He shuffled his feet rhythmically in the sand to create sound.  After seeing the amazing potential of electronics added by these two gentlemen, I knew I would never write off the use of electronics again.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is definitely a band that enjoys their use of electronics.  Hailing from the city of Detroit, Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott got together to form a band they classify as more pop than indie.  Of course, they don’t label themselves as anything getting played on the radio.  Don’t expect to find them opening up for Ke$ha any time soon, but they would like to think that their music can connect with a large amount of the population.  Releasing you first album on Atlantic records can’t hurt when you hope to reach a large group of people.

Dale Jr. Jr. doesn’t have a NASCAR obsession or anything.  From what I’ve read they don’t even watch the “sport”; however, it’s easy to be fooled since they are seen many times wearing NASCAR racing suits while on stage.  Evidentially, they really were just tossing around names that they thought people would be comfortable and interested in listening to.  They even went as far as to write the driver and see what he had to say about their band’s name.  He was very approving and stated that he really liked their music.  I couldn’t help but laugh when I read that Counting Crows 2 was a close second for potential band names.

Listening to the first full length from Dale Jr. Jr. provides a wide variety of different styles of songs.  The first song on the album “Morning Thought”  has a drum beat that is easily identifiable as the backbone of the song.  From there, most of the other instruments give you a plethora of other things to listen to.  There is plenty of layering using the guitar, keyboard, electronics, and harmonizing vocals. You could listen to this song a few times through and alway pick something new out.  The vocals keep a pretty similar pitch throughout; however, the harmonizing really brings a full sound on the chorus.  It is no wonder they need to hire a backing band on tour.  There is no way two people could do enough on stage to produce this sound.

There are some fun danceable songs on this album as well. “An Ugly Person on a Movie Screen” is a fun dancy tune driven by a catchy drums and bass line.  “Vocal Chords” begins with some very ambient harmonizing vocals; however, the bass and funky guitar line lead you into the dance feel.  I really like this track as it shows both the fun and serious side of this band.  However, you definitely have to like some falsetto singing to like chorus. The album’s title song, “It’s a Corporate World” , has a very Vampire Weekend feel.  It has a quick tempo, light mood, and a singable chorus.  I could definitely see a room full of hipsters boping around chanting this one out.

Dale Jr. Jr. definitely creates some of its best music when it slows it down for their more quiet and reflective songs.  “If It Wasn’t You” has some really ambient harmonizing taking place combined with soft instruments and music.  I believe I even hear a harp in there somewhere.  There is a little strange electronic noise throughout that my wife claims sounds like a rodent running across the floor; however, I don’t quite catch that.  “The Fisherman” has some of the best harmonizing on the album.  The music also seems to have the least going on with it.  You can catch a guitar, a little light electronics, and even a saw violin in there as well.  A little heavier bass does come in to bring the tempo up, but it still keeps its cool and calm demeanor.

One of my favorite songs on the album is actually a cover.  They do their own version of the late Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit”.  The duo are given the opportunity to not only pay homage to their city, but also, to a man who did a lot for the music industry.  This is definitely the closest song to an actual rock anthem on the album.  It has some real fuzzy guitars and a driving rhythm that is easy to get caught up in.

Overall I really enjoy this album.  I will have to admit that it took me quite a few listens, and a little prompting from a coworker, to get into this album; however, I would have to say that these guys are going to have a big career.  They have some great ideas on how to compose songs, and they apparently put on a great live show.  If you’re looking for something new, I would definitely check these guys out.  There’s a really good chance they only continue to blow up.

Teacher Grade: B+

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Dogfish Head – Midas Touch

This week has been a pretty crazy week.  Monday I had my first day back at teaching.  I am doing the Talented and Gifted students
this year so, while it means I don’t have to worry as much about student behavioral problems, I do have to worry about being a more complete teacher.  Also, it means that I have quite a few students.  Tuesday we then had our first natural disaster of the week.  My first earthquake ever wasn’t terribly scary, although it definitely left me feeling slightly on edge.  Then we had the joy of standing in the parking lot for well over an hour waiting for dismissal.  Now, I sit in my living room with Irene blowing around outside.  What better way to ride out a hurricane and unwind from a strange week than enjoy a beer and blog about it.

As my regular readers can tell you, I love just about everything that Dogfish Head does.  I know not everyone agrees with that. I had more than one person tell me they didn’t enjoy The Red and White as much as I did, but I just can’t help it.  It’s sort of like your favorite band.  Yeah they put out a few records now and then that really aren’t all that great, but because they are your favorite band, you can always seem to find some good qualities in it.  Well for me, Dogfish Head is that band.

Midas Touch is one of the beers in Dogfish’s line-up of Ancient Ales.  The ancient ales are beers that have been created based on analysis of old pottery and drinking vessels found in different archeological digs.  They attempt to recreate these extremely old brews based on their findings.  Midas is the only one that is brewed year round. This brew is based on the analysis of different drinking vessels found in the tombs of King Midas.  It is one of the oldest known recipes going back to the 8th century BC. Included in the recipe is barley, white Muscat grapes, honey and saffron.  It’s really almost surreal to think that you are consuming something that was originally created and consumed by people so many years ago.

Midas pours out an ironic golden color.  I suppose something called Midas Touch should be gold in color.  It does develop a slight white head; however, that head pretty much completely disappears in seconds.  Swirling the glass results in a little lacing; however, it doesn’t hang around long.  I think most of the sweet sugary content in here is due to the ingredient of honey.  Due to my current love for dark beers, nothing about the appearance made me very excited for the ensuing tasting.

I personally really felt like I could pull that grape smell out of the original smell.  It’s very much at the forefront.  I’m not highly knowledgeable of what white muscat grapes or saffron smell or even taste like, but I know what to expect from your typical grape.  There were also some very light citrus notes that came out in the smell.  Some hints of apple are also present, but once again, they are not all that powerful or overpowering. Overall, most of the smells are light and clean.  Nothing really jumps out of the smell.

The taste brings that citrus and apple flavor right to the forefront.  It really has that almost hard cider feel to it at the onset of the taste.  However, the grape flavor is really present throughout.  Actually, the grape flavor is rather full-bodied in the entirety of the tasting.  After the apple flavor dies away, there is a rather sweet feel before the aftertaste kicks in.  I think this has to be due to the honey included in the ingredients.  The end of the tasting results in a slightly bitter taste.  It definitely doesn’t taste like the result of hops, and the fact that the Dogfish site says there is only 12 IBU’s in here proves it. Therefore,  I can’t think it’s due to any amount of hops.  Like I said earlier, I have no idea what saffron tastes like, but I think it comes through in the aftertaste. The aftertaste lingers far to long in this particular beer, and it isn’t particularly enjoyable.  It just leaves you with a slight bad taste in your mouth.

There is a moderate to large amount of carbonation present in this beer, which helps make this beer pretty enjoyable at the start.  I really feel like a fan of hard cider would like this beer before the aftertaste kicks in.  The big problem comes in the ending.  I can understand the allure of creating a beer that is based on such an old recipe, but this beer just loses me in the end.  The clean and crisp start to the mouthfeel is extremely appealing, but it all goes downhill after that.  The lingering effect of the aftertaste is a really big turnoff.

Like I said at the start of this blog, Dogfish is the band that can do no wrong; however, I can’t help but think this beer will be the album I only play when I’ve forgotten I really just don’t like it.  I think Dogfish has a great idea with producing their ancient ales line, but how is it this one is produced all year round.  Sadly I will end up giving this beer a poor review, but I’m hoping the next Dogfish bottle I pick up will make me forget about this Dogfish misstep.

Teacher Rating: C-

Duck-Rabbit – Schwarzbier

Is it winter yet?  I ask this clearly ridiculous question because for some reason I am already really loving dark beers.  Just the other night we went out for a few drinks, and I clearly had far too many different porters, stouts, and brown ales.  For some reason I spent a very short period of time truly enjoying lighter wheats and hefes this summer.  I guess I just can’t get enough of the good old roasted coffee flavor.

Duck-Rabbit is a brewery that I have very very little experience with.  Located in North Carolina, they are clearly the company for someone like myself (at least at the moment).  With the lightest beer on their portfolio being an amber ale, it is clear they solely specialize in dark beers.  I believe previously to this particular beer, the only beer I have had from their line-up is their milk stout.  A very fine beer I must say.

I believe I can truly say I have never had a schwarzbier before; however, after doing a little more research, I may have to change that to never knowingly had a schwarzbier before.  Schwarz is a German style black lager.  In the recipe they utilize lager yeast rather than ale yeast and also no roasted barley.  The darkness of the beer comes from the roasted malts.  It is a very old style of beer that dates back to 1390.

Duck-Rabbit aren’t the only ones on the market making a schwarzbier right now; however, they are one of the few that actually call it the original name.  Samuel Adams brews one that they simply call a black lager, Saranac produces one under the name “Black Forest”, and Broken Drum Brewery produces one called “Midnight Eclipse”.  Hence the reason I can honestly say I have never knowingly had a beer of this style.  Apparently most brewers like disguise the actual style by giving it an even more mysterious name.  I guess it’s less scary to consume something referring to it being dark than calling it something hard to say.

On to the tasting!

Like the stout that I reviewed the last time, this beer had an extremely dark color to it.  It seems nearly impossible to give a color description to something that comes out so dark.  There really was very little head development on the pour.  The head was a lot lighter than some of the other really dark beers I have had as of late.  Also, swirling the glass left a little residue and lacing on the glass, but it quickly disappeared.  It seems there are very little sugars in this beer.

The smell had a very earthy feel to it.  You could certainly pull out a heavy amount of roasted malts.  I was surprised that the coffee and chocolate scents weren’t more at the forefront of the smell.  Instead, they seemed to take a backseat to this oaky malt heavy scent.  Also, I felt that there were some very minor hops that could be hidden somewhere in there.  I wanted to tasting to confirm whether this was true or not.

I was surprised by how much coffee was in the taste.  From the research, I knew that there were coffee and chocolate flavors in this beer; however, the smell led me to believe that maybe they were more subtle.  The coffee especially just smacks you in the face.  It’s not coffee with cream and sugar either.  This is straight espresso that you taste right away.  As opposed to the smell, the oaky woody taste is more secondary to the taste.  It is definitely still there, but it has more of a back seat.  The roasted malts are extremely noticeable, and I have a feeling that’s part of the reason why the coffee is even more noticeable.  The end has an almost bitter flavor to it; however, it isn’t the same bitterness you get out of hops.  It is definitely closer to the bitterness you get from a strong cup of coffee.  There is also almost a clove flavor that comes as well.

Unlike a stout, the mouthfeel is not very creamy.  However, I also wouldn’t say this has a very clean crisp feel to it.  There is a moderate amount of carbonation that helps distinguish this from an actual cup of coffee, but the carbonation also only accentuates the coffee flavors.  There is a definite lingering of the after taste here as well.

All in all I really like this beer; however, I know this is not going to be for everyone.  Light beer drinkers beware, you may be able to handle the occasional dark brew; however, this is not your typical dark beer.  I love a good cup of coffee, so I couldn’t help but really like this one.  I also really couldn’t imagine drinking more than one bottle of this at a time though.

Teacher Grade: A

Givers – In Light

It has definitely been a while since I sat down to do a CD review.  I sort of blame it on the fact that I simply was off the whole summer, and therefore, didn’t spend a whole lot of time in front of the computer reviewing.  However, for anyone who maybe was missing me, you’ll be very happy to know that I returned to work this week.  Therefore, I have had a whole lot more time to listen to music at random and consider what I wanted to say about the album.  So if anybody missed my terribly insightful take on new music: I’m back!

Anyway, I discovered Givers randomly one night when my wife was on her trip to Canada.  I was sitting in front of the T.V. late at night and found that Matt Pinfield actually still has a show where he talks about music on T.V. Did anyone actually realize he was still around?  I figured maybe he was on satellite radio or something. Anyway, he has this show that is on really late at night called 120 minutes where he talks about bands and shows some cool videos.  One band I had never heard of was this band.  I was immediately very interested in looking into them more.

Unlike when I reviewed The Head and the Heart, I think this band is definitely pretty new on the scene.  Head and the Heart had already done some really big tours despite still being quite new.  From what I have been able to find, Givers have opened for Ra Ra Riot and Dirty Projectors.  Therefore, I still think you can call them pretty underground.  I’m not sure how long you will be able to say that though.

The members of Givers met in high school and college down in Louisiana.  They previously played in some different zydeco bands before coming together to form this group.  I have had very limited experiences with zydeco, but I am slightly familiar with the music due to some amazing friends down in New Orleans exposing me to some.  I can also tell you that Givers have maybe a slight zydeco influence to their sound; however, it is by no means zydeco music.  Givers was signed by the once indie record label Glassnote Music in February.  There they joined the ranks of Mumford and Sons, Phoenix, and Two Door Cinema Club.  Obviously you can see why I would feel the need to refer to the label as once indie.

One thing that can be certainly said about Givers’ sound is that they are not a downer band.  As the title of the first song, “Up, Up, Up”, suggests, they are definitely very positive and up beat.  I would like to think they rival Matt and Kim for their positive and fun sound; however, having been to a Matt and Kim show, I’m sure that can’t be the case.  “Up, Up, Up” is the first single off the album and clearly their most friendly radio single.  Although none of the album comes off as radio unfriendly, this first song has some strange catchy factor that is hard to ignore.  It’s the song that Matt Pinfield used to hook me.  This song helps to set up the trifecta of vocals of ,Tiffany Lamson, Taylor Guarisco, Kirby Campbell, who do share the responsibility throughout most of the record.  At times, like the chorus here, they come together to form some nice sounding and very singable moments.

You can definitely hear the influence of The Dirty Projectors as you listen through the remainder of the songs on the album.  The Projectors have pretty much perfected the use of the harmonizing in songs, and these guys are not shying away from using it either.  “Noche Nada” is an excellent example of using harmony to create a thick and robust sound.  Two of the different vocals continue to harmonize while the third set of vocals ignores the lyrics all together and simply adds to the harmony.  All they need is another girl or two to simply make sounds for harmony effect and they’ll have captured what the Projectors do so well.

Givers also have a tendency to come across almost sounding like the kid brother to Vampire Weekend.  They have that Afro-pop sound that a lot of people have found pretty infectious when it comes to Vampire Weekend.  A great example of this is the song “Ceiling of Plankton”.  The song starts with that light and poppy sounding guitar hook.  It is joined by the drums and bass, but it really is the unharmonized vocals here that add to that Vampire Weekend sound.  They definitely put their own spin on the style; however, it’s one of those things where you wouldn’t be surprised if it was released as a b-side by Vampire Weekend at some point.

The music is a little drum heavy overall.  This could be due to the fact that they not only have a drummer but also a percussionist.  This isn’t to say that the other instruments don’t come through either though.  One member of the band, Nick Stephan, plays the flute, sax, and keyboard on the album.  They definitely don’t waste his talents either.  Though out the album you notice the influence in different places.  I personally find it to be one of those things where you hear a little something you never realized was in the mix before.  It adds a lot of depth to the band’s sound.

Overall, I was really happy to discover this band.  They may have a lot of current influences, but I think they do a good job of putting their own spin on things.  If you’re looking for a band to just have fun with, definitely give this one a shot.  They are definitely having a good time putting out music that is of a high quality.  You may want to jump on them soon.  Like I said, I did discover them during a rare moment that MTV actually showed music.  Now go and watch the video that hooked me!

Teacher Rating: B

Canadians got one thing right!

If you know anything about me, then you know I have one other really big love other than beer and music: hockey.   Let me take this opportunity to make all of my readers aware that my Friday night hockey team won our second straight championship game this past week. That’s right, it is a big deal! Now that we have gotten that out of the way, lets get down to the real reason for this post. Recently my wife took a little vacation to Canada with her mother.  I of course only asked for one main gift while she was gone.  That would be the gift of beer I could not find in our area.  Now I feared for the worst and of course told her to not get me some of the names I’m familiar with.  I was very trusting that she would come up with something better than Molson, Labatt Blue, or Moosehead.  Thankfully she certainly did not disappoint. She brought home three very interesting bottles I have never seen or tasted before.  The first of which is this fine little bottle here: La Vlie Maltee’s Criminelle Stout Imperial.

I, of course, don’t know a whole lot about this brewery or the history of this beer.  Therefore, I knew I would have to do a little research to find out something about this beer.  Unfortunately for me, I don’t speak french.  This made it really hard for me to pull very much info off the bottle or the internet.  There is however one thing that caught my eye on the bottle. There is a little notification that this brew won the World Beer Awards for best strong stout.  Other than that, it was really hard to find much else out.  I did notice that there were a few other reviews that were on some of the other big beer review sites.  Once again, I could have learned something about the company if I actually spoke french.  On to the review!

This beer had a really really intense black color to it.  It’s really hard to describe something so dark as anything other than a dark black stout.  Perhaps motor oil is a good way to put it. The other interesting coloring came in the head that developed on the beer.  Although I have seen darker head on some other stouts and even porters, this one did have a nice thick rich dark head that developed after the initial pour.  Swirling the glass created an ultra thick lacing on the sides of the glass.  It definitely made me excited for the rich taste I was in for.

Smell wise there was some very coffee forward notes that are sort of typical of this particular style.  It also had an almost oaky wood smell to it as well.  You could definitely smell the malt backbone on this one.  However, there was some very definite hops smells that lingered as well.  I glanced at the bottle to see if there were any amount of hops in here.  According to the bottle, there are 28 IBU’s in this one.  Definitely not a hefty amount of hops; however, I was expecting to find some hops flavor somewhere in the tasting.

Tasting did have a few different levels to the flavors that took place on the palate.  First and foremost, the heavy coffee and chocolate notes invade the taste buds.  These definitely linger there for a little while, but they give way to that oaky woody taste that was also present in the smell.  The woodiness isn’t too overpowering, but it is combined with the heavy malts that really bring a creamy feel to it.  In the end, there is a surprising little bite of hops.  I think someone could easily overlook the hops in the end, but then they would be wondering how this thick and creamy beer somehow became bitter in the end.  Either way, being a fan of hops, I am glad to see that they haven’t been forgotten here.

The mouthfeel here does have a very creamy feel throughout most of the tasting; however, that is accompanied by a moderate amount of carbonation.  This really assists in bringing a nice balance to the stout.  I have definitely had a few different stouts that seem to rely on little to no carbonation.  To me, while I enjoy the flavors of these other stouts, I always feel like I’m drinking a delicious flat soda.  Therefore, I am really happy to see that this brewer decided to bring some nice carbonation in here.

All in all, I really enjoyed this stout.  I think this may be one of those beers styles I don’t have often enough, but lately I have really enjoyed the darker beers.  Guess I’m ready for summer to be over soon.  I don’t know where you would find this one to pick up, but if you happen to see it somewhere in the stores, I would suggest giving it a try.

Teacher Grade: B+