Archives for posts with tag: review

With all the acts of political suicide taking place here in Wisconsin, it’s been hard to keep up with some of the things I enjoy in my normal, non-political life.  These include researching the gruesome deaths of my favorite poets, half-heartedly translating things from German and investigating the beers of the world.  But given the turbulence of local politics, isn’t now, more than ever, the time when I should be turning to the benevolent brewers for comfort? And so, I again dip my toes in that golden-hued pool of discovery as I recently tried for the first time, and probably last, Dogfish Head’s 60-Minute IPA.

The fact that I probably won’t have this beer again doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with its quality, but with the fact that Dogfish Head, based out of Delaware, announced last week that it is ending its distribution efforts in Wisconsin and handful of other states.  Madison Beer Review has a good analysis as to why Wisconsin is both a desirable and difficult market for out-of-state craft brewers, so I won’t try to recreate their analysis.  But I think they hit the point perfectly: In Wisconsin we support craft brewers with a passion, but we favor Wisconsin brewers above others.  I certainly consider myself a typical Wisconsin beer drinker in this respect; unless given a direct recommendation based on my proclivities, I will always choose a Wisconsin beer before anything made out-of-state.

Although this may certainly limit the variety of beers that come and stay in Wisconsin, I think our support of local craft brewers is one of the best things about Wisconsin.  And, for the record, our brewers are fantastic and are generally incredibly inventive.  These, often small-scale, brewers can afford to innovate because they have this local support.

So does Wisconsin need the presence of highly-regarded out-of-state brewers like Dogfish Head? Despite my unending support of Wisconsin brewers, I have to answer yes.  The more variety that can be brought to the state, the more local breweries will have to develop to remain relevant with the public’s taste preferences.  In other words, bring the beer to Wisconsin so that the Wisconsin brewers can make those beers even better.

So how was my first and possibly only taste of Dogfish Head?  Pretty good.

I tried the 60-Minute IPA, the loss of which several of the Fishdog Head mourners of Twitter had especially marked.  The initial taste of the 60-Minute IPA is really golden, almost like a honey feeling. It has an almost-sweet effervescence that eventually leads into a full-bodied hoppy finish, which is bitter but not especially daunting.  Overall, it was a pleasant drink that would go well with many of the heavier meals we cherish here in Badgerland.

My one gripe was that the hops, although well balanced and not overpowering in the beginning do eventually overpower all the other flavors of the beer. By the end of the bottle all that initial golden shimmering on my tongue was no more. It was hops and all hops.  But as the hop trend continues and I am forced to have more and more hoppy beer, I have begun to suspect that this is just the nature of hops.  Once hops get on your tongue for a while they just kill off more subtle flavors.

This is why I find the trend towards hoppy beers pretty annoying.  It’s not that I don’t like a full-bodied beer, but I like to taste all of the beer as I drink down the bottle.  Are we drinking works of art, or are drinking competitions to discover the human tolerance level for bitter flavor?  What’s the point?


A simple organ chord opens a multi-layered journey of the self in Owen Pallett’s Heartland.  Hearthland investigates song-building and personal identity in an often strange narrative journey of a character named Lewis–it’s a journey as expansive as it is personal and told through music that is of the moment but  echoes the past.

“Midnight Directives,” begins the album with a simple organ chords, then adds slow, ascending “oohing” vocals, almost like a heavenly chorus.  Very quickly, these are taken over by the driving speed of the Pallett’s lyrics, and eventually, a frantic violin.  It’s a track that’s ambitious and energetic and matches the raw optimism of the Lewis speaker as he abandons farm and family to journey towards a different self, “a clerical life.”

Although the music in the first three tracks is interesting, “Red Sun No. 5” is an early standout. The steady beat of a synthesizer slowly paces this song, which is about a moment of personal discovery. The tone is tinged with melancholy, but also the hope of revelation. This moment of softness is later matched by the stirring “E is for Estranged,” which features mainly Pallett’s delicate vocals and whimpering violin.

These moments of pathos are balanced by the playful song-building of “Lewis Takes Action” and the poppy chorus of “Lewis Takes off His Shirt.” The former is something like a New Orleans funeral march, but bubbling over with a shimmering exuberance. Here he performs it live with full orchestration. When he performed this in Madison, he recorded a loop of each part and performed over the loops. It was impressive:

Although never directly spelled out in the lyrics, the speaker’s often anachronistic narrative feels entrenched in contemporary explorations of sexuality, gender roles and other identity struggles.  In “Red Sun No. 5”, Lewis leaves his wife for a “him” who offers “an ending” and “completion.” Later in “Tryst with Mephistopheles”, in a moment of sheer meta-self-destruction, the Lewis speaker gleefully sings about brutally murdering “Owen,” his creator, with a bouncy sing-song tone.  Hiding behind the irony of the lyric-music combination in “Mephistopheles” is a real question about the nature of creativity and what hiding behind another identity really means.

The contemporary and the past also overlap in Heartland’s music. Although the album is highly produced and layered, as with many contemporary albums (such as Arcade Fire–for whom Pallett often does string arrangements), certain songs seem built off musical styles from centuries ago. For instance in “Great Elsewhere,” Pallett begins with a few measures on the keyboard and from there he builds and sweeps. Yet, as far away as the “Great Elsewhere” appears to veer from its simple opening, underneath all is still the basic keyboard theme we first heard:

In here is a nod back to the fugue form, popular during the Baroque movement.  The key is to build different patterns off the same theme.  Bach was a true master of the form and it is often a thrill to try to track a theme underneath all of the layers he puts on top of it:

Here’s another famous fugue from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas; try not to throw yourself into a pyre after this one–it’s depression for the ear:

What’s so significant about Heartland is that underneath all the layers of stuff: the unique musicality, the themes, the meta-narrative, the looping and the references–Heartland still feels incredibly personal and moving.  Pallett’s voice is flexible and clear in an age when everyone sounds manufactured.  Heartland is an album that respects the significance of the past, but looks to the future.