This month’s edition of ‘What’s on Tap?’ combines three of my favorite things into one deliciously awesome cornucopia: video games, breakfast, and beer. VGM veteran Pete Ellison returns to the soundtrack world with #Breakforcist, a breakfast-themed brick breaking collaboration with Kevin John at Lucid Sheep Games. Demonic waffles fall from the sky and your task is to destroy them by any means necessary, augmenting your ball with bacon lasers and pancakes. #Breakforcist is currently available on iOS devices, with an Android port coming in the near future. In addition to the soundtrack, Pete did the artwork for the game and you can unlock iMessage stickers by progressing through the levels. Play this game for ten minutes and the only person more enthusiastic about breakfast than you is Leslie Knope:
Musically, #Breakforcist sits squarely in an uncanny valley between retro gaming and contemporary music production. Soundfonts resembling the SNES and Dreamcast-era classics mix freely with Absynth-like patches and filters, wrapped up in a tight and clean package. Although designed for handheld devices, the #Breakforcist soundtrack plays well through laptops, headphones, and normal speaker setups – a testament to Pete’s solid production skills. The soundtrack has a common theme of uptempo, danceable grooves to keep the player’s energy high, but there are a surprisingly wide variety of sounds from beginning to end. The more ambient tracks function well as both background music and standalone pieces, with several standout melodies and funky basslines to keep the listener engaged. Perhaps the most unique portion of the soundtrack are Pete’s tracks that utilize the sexy vocaloid known here as Cyber Diva. If you are having trouble envisioning this sound, imagine Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ with a thumping backbeat and lyrics about waffles instead of nuclear war.
Now, let’s bust out the maple syrup and dig into some of these sweet tunes, shall we?
The title screen music is undoubtedly one of the most important cues in a gaming soundtrack, especially with a portable game designed for multiple shorter play sessions. The #Breakforcist title music is a funky, swinging romp that reminds me of some of the better cuts from Super Monkey Ball or WarioWare: Smooth Mooves. A fat reso bass pounds out a constant rhythm, and I enjoy the slightly behind-the-beat nature of the organ patch. Fun tune!
What happens when you cross the Baroque influences of the Castlevania soundtrack with dance music? Like steak for breakfast, it’s a tasty and slightly unconventional combination that is quite enjoyable. My favorite part about this track is the use of staccato notes to create space in the musical texture. Many composers have a tendency to begin at the first downbeat and just keep filling the air with notes without letting them breathe, and the unison hits with slight rests after each really allow the texture to ebb and flow. The constantly panning hi-hats also create a nice and wide stereo field, something that is quite appreciated when listening to the soundtrack without the pressure of destroying those evil waffles.
‘Brunch My Body’ is the first of several tracks featuring Cyber Diva, and it flows nicely when listening to the album in track order. The combination of dance music with a swinging bassline and Baroque-like descending lines is really enjoyable, and continues throughout the soundtrack. Quirky, pun-filled lyrics about coffee and love delivered by a synthetic voice might sound out of place in any other setting, but it works perfectly within the #Breakforcist universe. Cyber Diva’s delivery is at times just a fraction behind the beat, and it sounds fantastically human in that regard.
‘Very Syruptitious’ is a fine example of a track that fits the role of background music without being too intrusive, yet remains enjoyable when removed from the game environment. Anyone who has read my reviews knows that I am a sucker for a cool bassline, and the driving octaves throughout this track really get my blood pressure pumping like a triple espresso. Another feature that is consistent across the soundtrack are the slow resonant filters applied to instrumental patches. This element is an example of what I mentioned earlier with the blending of traditional chip elements with current EDM or electro-house production values, creating a sort of ‘post-modern chiptune’ landscape that is highly enjoyable. Finally, the increasingly dissonant organ patch near the end of the track is really neat; like a second order of IHOP endless pancakes, I could go for another helping or two of that sound if this music were to be any longer.
Thumping bass and chaotic raygun effects abound in ‘Let’s Exorcise’. Instead of being a one-off sound effect, those descending blaster-like sounds appear a few times in rhythm, accompanied by a swirling panning effect. Where the beginning few tracks were oddly Baroque in their tonal gravity, ‘Let’s Exorcise’ explores the dark side of near atonality with tritones and frequent shifts between major and minor triads. This is the kind of quirky, evil boss music that one would hear in a world of bacon lasers, and it sounds great.
Pete Ellison manages to explore a wide variety of musical styles on the #Breakforcist soundtrack; here we get almost a textbook drum and bass track, breakfast style. Insistent hi-hats and syncopated snare accompany a low, warbling bass, alternating with a sparse melodic line that is reminiscent of the opening title music. Pete even manages to sneak in a little air horn lead with what sounds like a detuned saw lead – niiiiiice.
The last track I am featuring here is another appearance by Cyber Diva, this time in a Luigi’s Mansion-esque carnival ride from hell. Dissonant octatonic scales represent the evil but oh so tasty waffles, lovingly referenced throughout the lyrics. The raygun portamento effects from ‘Let’s Exorcise’ return here in an amplified and more chaotic fashion, blurring the musical texture between transitions. It is certainly possible that an entire album featuring Cyber Diva would eventually get tiresome, but I would definitely like the opportunity to experience 8-10 more tracks in exactly the style heard on this soundtrack.
#Breakforcist is an endless brick breaking romp that celebrates the best meal of the day – breakfast! Pete Ellison’s stylish artwork and catchy soundtrack perfectly compliments the work done by Kevin John at Lucid Sheep Games. Musically, the soundtrack stays consistent with danceable beats, and remains varied by exploring several musical genres from Baroque influenced counterpoint to EDM and contemporary atonality. Like a delicious jelly filled doughnut, the hidden surprises of the album are the tracks featuring the chic vocaloid known here as Cyber Diva. With oddball lyrics that reference breakfast and endless love, this combines with the playful nature of the game to create something that is quite unique in today’s gaming landscape. Check out #Breakforcist on the iOS store and make sure to pick up the soundtrack on Pete’s Bandcamp linked below!
Featured Beer Style Pairing: American (Adjunct) Stout
History: Ahhhh, stout. Nothing beats a good dark beer on a cold and windy day, or a warm day, or for brunch, or… well, you get the picture. I often get the question ‘What is the difference between stout and porter?’ and we certainly don’t have the time or space to answer that today. However, I am also asked ‘Why is this called an American stout? What’s that?’ and I CAN shed some light on that topic. Like our pension for fast cars, big houses, and chicken sandwiches where the bun is another chicken sandwich, Americans really like to push things to the extreme and our craft beer is no different. Building on the roasted malts and creamy mouthfeel of English stouts, an American stout is defined by having some or all of the following three elements:
1) High ABV – like the Russian Imperial Stout, American stouts can tip the alcohol content scales anywhere from 8% up to 15% depending on local laws. Not all American stouts have high ABV, but this is a common feature of the style.
2) Lots of hops – all beer contains hops, but the American stout often features hop bitterness alongside the bold, roasted malt flavors of the typical stout.
3) Adjuncts – an adjunct is any ingredient in a beer that isn’t water, hops, malted grain, or yeast. Traditional adjuncts (regardless of style) might be rye, oats, honey, or coriander. American stouts typically add adjuncts such as coffee, cacao/chocolate, vanilla beans, peanut butter, or even hot peppers to create a wide variety of flavors. These beers are often aged for months in bourbon, whiskey, or wine barrels for an additional decadent flavor component. Adjunct additions are the most important feature of the American stout style.
My ideal pairing for the #Breakforcist soundtrack is going to be Founders Breakfast Stout, to no surprise of anyone who has experienced both the beer and the music. Founders is a large brewery out of Grand Rapids, Michigan that distributes to at least 43 states, although some areas have limited availability. Breakfast Stout is a wonderful combination of roasted malt with huge coffee flavor, and pairs wonderfully with a skill-based game like #Breakforcist until the third or fourth pint! This is the perfect time of year to also find their limited release KBS – Kentucky Breakfast Stout – where they take Breakfast Stout and age it in oak bourbon barrels for a year in a cave. Track it down in bottles or on tap in the next few weeks, but don’t wait because it will not last long.
The craft beer industry moves in trends that seem to last anywhere from a year to 18 months before moving on to the next hip style. We are just coming off the ‘peak hop’ style where everyone was cramming as many IBUs as possible into huge IPA recipes, and it seems like we are almost at ‘peak stout’ levels. The beer hipster backlash hasn’t quite taken hold yet, but it does seem that the market is reaching total saturation on high ABV barrel aged stouts. Where Goose Island was once king of the barrel aged beer trade with lines several blocks long, many breweries now have barrel aging programs of various sizes depending on their operating costs and space limitations. With the arrival of spring just around the corner it may be difficult to find stouts in abundance at your local microbrewery, but keep an eye out and you just might spot a coffee or chocolate stout just down the street!
Recommendations: Goose Island’s Bourbon County used to be the only game in town for BA American stouts, releasing on Black Friday each year. Founders own KBS releases in the spring, and many of the non-barrel American stouts in the list below are available year round. Happy hunting!
Ballast Point ‘Victory At Sea’; variants include vanilla, coconut, peanut butter, and mint.
Bell’s Brewery ‘Java Stout’ and ‘Cherry Stout’
Dogfish Head ‘Chicory Stout’
Founders ‘Breakfast Stout’; beer-flavored coffee, or was it the other way around? Breakfast of champions either way.
Harpoon ‘Chocolate Stout’
Sierra Nevada ‘Coffee Stout’
Sixpoint ‘Diesel’; hoppy with espresso/chocolate notes.
Southern Tier ‘Choklat’ and ‘Creme Brulee’; dessert beers to the max, with super sweet chocolate flavors and high ABV. Don’t pass up ‘Choklat Oranj’ if you see it in your local grocery store – it’s ridiculous!
Victory Brewing ‘Storm King Stout’; hoppy imperial stout with espresso/chocolate malt flavors. Also check out their ‘Java Cask’ limited release.
Anderson Valley ‘Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout’
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! ‘Aphrodisiaque’; vanilla and cocoa flavors. Très magnifique!
Fat Head’s ‘Oompa Loompa Chocolate Cream Stout’; doopity don’t mind if I do!
Founders ‘KBS’ (‘Kentucky Breakfast Stout’); big coffee flavors, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels.
Goose Island ‘Bourbon County Stout’; released on Black Friday with several variants each year, the granddaddy of BA American stouts.
New Holland Brewing ‘Dragon’s Milk’; barrel aged imperial stout.
Spring House ‘Big Gruesome’; peanut butter and chocolate.
Tall Grass ‘Buffalo Sweat’; oatmeal cream stout with several variants like vanilla/cinnamon, bourbon barrel, and chocolate peanut butter.
Whalez, brah! – Track these down on your next beercation if you can find them:
Cigar City (FL) ‘Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout’; cacao, Madagascar vanilla beans, chilis, and cinnamon.
Deschutes (OR) ‘The Abyss’; imperial stout with variants aged in different liquor barrels.
Founders (MI) ‘CBS’ (‘Canadian Breakfast Stout’); ultra chase KBS variant aged in Canadian maple barrels and rumored to be re-released in 2017.
Perennial Artisan Ales (MO) ‘Abraxas’; Ancho chiles, cacao, vanilla beans, and cinnamon. Barrel aged version also available if you can find it.
Pizza Boy (PA) ‘Sunny Side Up’; coffee, also rarely available aged in bourbon barrels.
Prairie Artisan Ales (OK) ‘Bomb!’; very similar to ‘Abraxas’ but slightly easier to find with PAA’s new distribution footprint.
Westbrook (SC) ‘Mexican Cake’; regular Cake has cocoa, vanilla, and habaneros. Many variants if you can find them (or have rich friends).
Thank you again for joining me for ‘What’s On Tap?’ and I hope you enjoy both the music and the beer! Please remember two very important things – support musical artists and always drink responsibly. Cheers!