Monday, October 14, 2013

The Record Binge, No. 2

I know most you hoes get your music recommends from the 'fork. Don't worry, it doesn't make you a bad person. I mean, if you're all about being serious, hyper-literate and sober, then that's fine or whatever. You can head right on over and read all about how the new Drake joint got an astounding eight-point-six outta ten. Then you can go out and regurgitate that hyperbolic nonsense all over Brooklyn or Silver Lake like it's Gospel truth (though even God's gone soft re: Drizzy.. back in the day he'd have given that trash the negative three-and-a-half Zeus slaps it deserves).

I'm of the personal belief that there's nothing like a good record.. except for maybe a good beer. No matter the feeling you're trying to mask, accompany or inspire, there's an album or ale -- tons of either, really -- that'll fit the bill. It can't be coincidental that the two are so inseparable in the real world. Think about it. You ever been vibin' hard at some kegger somewhere when the playlist cut out for even an instant? So awkward. You ever been to a festival and strayed too far from the beer gardens before realizing how boring it is to be a football field from the stage? The worst. It's why the best shows take place in bars. It's why so many classic records were made by alcoholics. And it's why I  review both in tandem on this site from time to time.

The Record:

Andrew Cedermark is criminally underrated. Really, to call him underrated is to imply that anyone knows who the hell he is, which is by almost all accounts an unsound premise. Were there any justice in the world outside the hipstersphere, were it commonplace for bands like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire to grace the Grammys (not just to be recognized but to win), then it'd be much different. Everyone would spin the soft-spoken Cedermark's songs. More people would own or have even heard of his solo debut, Moon Deluxe, one of the best and most undervalued albums of whatever-the-hell year it was released.

The Glen Rock, New Jersey native used to play guitar with fellow Garden Staters and punk maximalists Titus Andronicus. If you've copped any of their records or been wise enough to catch them live on a main stage or dive, you know it's a position for which chops are a definite prerequisite. The dude can play guitar. What's that worth, though? Eddie Van Halen can play guitar, and I give a shit about exactly zero Van Halen songs. There's more to it than that, and perhaps more importantly than Cedermark's ability to string together memorable, hummable riffs in sequence is his knack for building atmosphere and feeling by weaving them in and out of the song structure as though it's second nature. Much like its predecessor, Home Life is a moody affair, and its guitars -- often layered two or three deep -- are always the mechanism by which Cedermark communicates whatever he needs to say or convey. They loosely saunter through the upbeat, more-important-than-they-seem meditations of "Canis Major" ("I [just] need my dog to come when I call." -- ain't that the goddamned truth). They decelerate into calculated atmospherics for those of "Canis Minor". They get woozy and travel-weary on "Train Window Man" before emerging rejuvenated and spry on the ensuing "At Home". They employ patient, build-and-then-bloom clockwork on "Heap of Trash". 

All of this works out nicely, because very little of what's sung on this record is understandable. The lyrics on Home Life are so frequently rendered all but unintelligible by both Cedermark's lackadaisical delivery and his close-micing of basically everything on this album. And that's kind of the point. The human voice has always been the simplest instrument, and here it's treated as such. It's intended to lend to mood. Occasionally you'll catch an ephemeral word or a phrase out in the open before it succumbs to a drawl and drops back into the distance. It's the train window on "Tiller of Lawn", the cicada-shell heart on "Canis Major" and the old memory yard in "Train Window Man". They're there mostly to provide instant bits of accompanying imagery, to be a center of gravity that keeps the music from exiting its orbit and appearing aimless. None of these verbal expressions are the focus, though, and rarely are they ever elevated to the top of the mix and not immediately clouded by the cascade of guitars that've tagged along for the ride. The most notable exception, of course, is album opener "On Me", and that's only because the lyrics and melody loosely adhere to those of Bill Withers' culturally-ingrained classic, albeit through the college beer night filter they were always best suited for. You'll feel comfortable singing along on first listen.

In that way, "On Me" is really a harbinger for the whole album. As could probably be discerned from its cover art and title, Home Life is a record of domestic focus. If all the album's parts are designed to promote an overriding mood, that mood is one that's easy, relaxed, and homespun. It feels a lot like the weekend retreat back to the hometown after a semester-consummating rager. There's a lot of that wistful gratitude for the everlasting, warm embrace of a place and people integral to one's wonder years. There's also a recognizable undercurrent of restless unease and a re-realized need to flee. It feels universally personalized if that's something that's possible. It encourages and inspires introspection but doesn't force it in any specific direction. It's meant to mean something to you or maybe as many people as you can reasonably fit into your living room. I find myself returning to this record damn near any time I'm folding clothes or washing dishes or writing or whatever. It's not somber. It's just not excessive. So even otherwise deliberate rockers like "At Home" downshift just enough every time Cedermark steps to the mic. Even when the jams crescendo to brilliant heights, as on the excellent harmonies closing "Tiller of Lawns" and "Memories, Ah!" that serve as Home Life's emotional bookends, they hit a sort of ceiling seemingly set to keep the neighbors at bay. Both feel like they could climb at least twice as high, but they don't need to.

The first track I'd ever heard of Cedermark's, the one that kicks off Moon Deluxe, is titled "Ad Infinitum". In truth, the dude's music often feels like it really could go on into the undefined distance. Like the first song could be the last song and could go on forever if allowed the opportunity to do so. Home Life's closing track "Men In Jail" is almost a play on this realization. It starts off in somber spoken word but  twists about for a half-minute before craftily returning to reprise the very (familiar) melody that introduced the record. It comes full-circle. It comes home in the same sneaky way everyone at some point recognizes they've never really left their own. It feels good.

The Brew:

Everyone's got a gateway beer. Well, not everyone. I know plenty of people from the Desert that started drinking Coors Light when they were like seven or eight and still drink it pretty much exclusively. That's just their shit, and I ain't no snooty sum'bitch, so I won't hate or pretend I ain't well acquainted with The World's Most Refreshing Can. Truth be told I don't even care if the mountains are all that blue when tossin' 'em back on occasion. But whatever. That's neither her nor there. What I mean to say is that other, better beers exist in parts of the world where people bathe. Craft beer culture is ever expanding, cooperative and excellent. New breweries are sprouting up all over the IE, which is to say nothing of the tons in Temecula, San Diego and Los Angeles. Jesus, even the lowly ol' HD spawned one late last year! And the returns continue to appreciate as more of the better home-brewers make the jump to the big leagues.

Hangar 24 Orange Wheat was my portal into this brave new world. Sure, by the time it first touched my tongue I'd been exposed to Newcastle, and Guinness, and several Sam Adams beers. I'd tried Pyramid and Blue Moon and all that. I knew there was better stuff out there, but those are all big-brand beers, and they don't exactly spur further discovery. That Orange Wheat, though? That's a different story. I don't even remember who turned me on to that mess or when and where it happened. I only know it changed the way I look at beer entirely. It was light, flavorful, refreshing and easy drinking. It might as well have been squeezed from God's tit as far as my newly of-age self was concerned. And it was super local! How neat! For awhile in college -- essentially the entire time I was careening my way to a B in Behavioral Endocrinology -- H24 Orange Wheat comprised something like 75 percent of my blood stream by volume, give or take. I don't drink it all that often anymore, and I only seek it out when I'm throwing a shindig for a gang of people and need something super accessible and enjoyable. But it certainly served its purpose. It's the reason I eventually got into other breweries and styles of beer. It's the reason I'll still walk into a BevMo or La Bodega and opt for something I've never tried instead of something I know I like.

Anyway, a couple of years ago Hangar started issuing their Local Fields series, a seasonally determined rotation of six-or-so brews featuring crops grown nearby in several SoCal farms. One's got dates from the Coachella Valley, another's got red grapes from Temecula wine country and is aged in old wine barrels, and so on and so forth. Aside from cementing Hangar 24's place within the Inland Empire and the region's agricultural heritage, the Local Fields line has also yielded some of the brewery's best beers. The Hangar 24 Essence is the summertime contribution to this collection (debuting this year on June 2nd). A double IPA brewed with the addition of Redlands-grown grapefruit and oranges (both blood and navel), it is for me a cross between the different epochs of my own alevolution, combining the hop character of the beers I gravitate toward more often these days with the citrus presence that sparked my affinity for craft suds in the first place. It's not just the best beer in the Local Fields series. It's the best beer Hangar 24 has ever put out.

There aren't a lot of places brewing pales as summer seasonals, especially not in Riverside County, where the calendar's middle months can be especially ruthless. Temps hang in the low- to mid-hundos for the lion's share of July and August, and the humidity only augments the misery. It's suffering season, for sure. You roll into my casita 'round then and you're all but guaranteed to find me sprawled out on the couch, near-naked next to a fan or swamp cooler on high. Probs still sweatin'. Conditions as such, I'm normally about as likely to reach for an IPA as I am a stout or glass of milk.

Or at least that was the case, y'all. That was before I could firmly divide my life into periods before and after consumption of Essence. That was before I could achieve satisfaction in all facets of alcohol ingestion. Talk about some shit that upended most of my world view, man. The first taste of this beer was like the first time someone tried to tell me Chris Columbus never smoked the peace pipe with George Washington and the Injuns at the first Thanksgiving. I was like what? I was like nah bro, everyone knows that happened! But now I know dude was a racist, murderous pile of shit and I don't celebrate his federal holiday and I look all cultured and sensitive or whatever. Same thing, really. Where once I was blind, now I can see. Where once I had want, now I have drunk.

Best believe that Essence a beautiful beast. Pouring out an enticing amber-orange, this beer is positively floral in the nose even at a distance. It's inviting for even casual connoisseurs or hop haters. Further, expectations of immediate hop presence on the palate go unfulfilled at the front. Those forging ahead reluctant and wincing at the behest of their beer-snob boyfriends will be served a stark sweetness instead. There is some slight tart flavor, but it's more that of orange peel than of hops. However, it serves as a suitable bridge between the initial sugary citrus and the more characteristic profile to which it soon seamlessly yields. The hops are there in the body, and they're there to stay, idling on the tongue in static glory until they're washed away by another pull. Accordingly, the finish is as dry as you'd expect from a west coast IPA, but not aggressively so (though I'm not at all opposed to that sort of thing). It's a brighter bitter, courtesy of the grapefruit notes that augment those already inherent in the Cascade hops added abundantly during the brewing process. The result is a big, charismatic beer that's just damn refreshing. Consider ya boy a convert.

Another element of this DIPA that remains true to the genre is its alcoholic content. The Hangar 24 Essence clocks in at a dutiful 8.5% ABV.


The GOP can't shut down my liver, fam.

This beast will definitely get ya pretty toasted along the way. Thusly, I'll stop just short of recommending it if you're going to be out in the sun all day, as you're bound to get dehydrated (a mistake I most regrettably made at Hangar's 5th Anniversary Airfest earlier this year, though one I was tossed enough not to notice 'til well after the fact). However, come 4 or 5 PM, this is the perfect beer for casually-paced consumption on the front or back porch.

The Pairing: 

Last year the roommates and I started watching movies outside after sunset on our mutual nights off. We'd assemble the flatscreen and Blu-Ray perilously atop a single stereo speaker and run a series of surge protectors out to the thing in the most white-trash set up imaginable, and we'd catch a couple flicks under the one or two stars able to penetrate the light pollution. It was kind of ghetto, but it was a great way of enjoying Riverside's few tolerable hours. It's since become a sort of tradition and often bleeds into the MLB Postseason when we'll move the festivities and rickety arrangement to the garage to watch the games.

This is my favorite time of the year. For a few weeks before Daylight Savings' draconian nightshift, those less lamentable hours move from the mid-night to the early twilight. It's warm enough to wear shorts, cool enough to keep a t-shirt from feeling like a sweater. It's just a tad too warm to start cracking open the Octoberfests of the world. In this environment the Hangar 24 Essence is the perfect ballgame beer, full-bodied and flavorful enough for fall, but as refreshing as anything you'd actually seek at the ballpark during the dog days of summer. A couple bombers over nine innings and you'll surely have built enough of a buzz to facilitate whatever emotional crest or trough the outcome should dictate.

Andrew Cedermark's Home Life will serve as a dependable post-game accompaniment for either.

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