Welcome to the October edition of ‘What’s on Tap?’ and boy do we have a unique musical selection for you this month! If I had a dollar for every album that I own that features Game Boy, vocals, and electric autoharp, well… I wouldn’t have a penny to my name. But wait – get those dollars ready because EvilWezil’s new jam ‘Forever Ago’ is a frenetic EP filled with LSDJ bleeps, sultry vocals, and the dulcet tones of distorted, wah-wah drenched autoharp goodness.
‘Forever Ago’ opens with a driving noise percussion beat full of space and potential energy that quickly transitions to a bouncing, energetic texture. The vocal tracks from EvilWezil and Nicole Cassese stay forward in the mix, laying effortlessly over an increasingly complicated texture. Also mixed among this Danny Elfman-esque psycho circus is the electric autoharp, providing washes of sound that add to the texture rather than overtaking other tracks in volume. The production of this album is great from start to finish, and the three disparate elements are always given their own space in the mix. ‘Worm Food’ closes with an interesting technique where the register continually gets higher and higher by the end of the song, building energy to a sudden stop.
A track that is best described as being grandiose in scope, ‘My Will Be Done’ opens with a lengthy Game Boy introduction. The mode mixture between the major tonic and the raised fifth (or flatted sixth) scale degree is a familiar trope, and it always works well to build anticipation. Interestingly, the vocals enter early rather than at the peak or release of all the musical energy that has been building. The explosive hit at 1:12 is the payoff that we have been waiting for, featuring spacious drums and bass below a frantic accompaniment. Long tones in the vocal melody contrast well with the busy background texture, and a wide stereo field with hard panned instruments helps create a gigantic, arena-filling sound. This track manages to just sound… ‘big’ in a way that defies the simplicity of its instrumentation.
Spacious, echoing arpeggios open the third track ‘Quitters’, allowing EvilWezil to set up some of the musical parameters of the track without immediately giving away what we are about to hear. The bone-rattling 12/8 texture after the introduction is my favorite of the album, featuring tasteful autoharp chording and some great LSDJ work. An immediate tone shift occurs when the vocals enter, sounding like a demented steampunk Kurt Weill for several phrases before alternating with the 12/8 texture. These shifts keep both textures fresh and exciting, while also underscoring my favorite vocal performance on the album. Lots of intense moments with long tones soaring over the texture provide a visceral, emotional connection for the listener that complements the machinelike precision in the accompaniment.
‘Pandora’s Icebox’ is not the only album track to take advantage of extreme registers, but the contrast between very high and very low timbres is exploited here to good use. Perhaps the most intimate vocal performance on the album, EvilWezil channels Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan during the ‘Violator’ era with sultry lines that almost whisper in the listener’s ear. I love the brief tempo change right before the last verse; this element is a neat little detail that keeps the music fresh in a straightforward energetic song.
Although it would seem to be hard to top the energy from previous tracks, ‘Mouthtrap’ makes a valiant attempt to do just that. Frenetic drums, tempo shifts, and blistering accompaniment patterns manage to keep pushing this track to new heights. Tempo shifts abound on this track to keep fast music from becoming tiresome, while EvilWezil smartly allows the vocals to lay back and not follow the intensity of the accompaniment. Slower rhythms and less extreme registers also means the lyrics are intelligible and almost angelic or sensitive over such intense accompaniment. Like the vast sounds heard in ‘My Will Be Done’, this album closes with a grand gesture that makes these five tracks feel much larger than they appear on the surface.
Released on the Pterodactyl Squad netlabel at the end of September, EvilWezil’s ‘Forever Ago’ deftly carves out a unique spot for itself among contemporary chiptune. Featuring not only Game Boy and vocals but the electric autoharp, this album blurs the lines between electronic and live instruments. These five tracks are packed full of interesting music that thrums with an energy that builds from the opening notes and ends with a fantastically satisfying closing track. ‘Forever Ago’ was percolating for quite a while, and we are lucky to be in the right place and time for these tracks to see the light of day.
Featured Beer Style Pairing: Porter
History: As the weather gets cooler the beer offerings tend to get darker, and the best way to combat seasonal affective disorder is with a bit of dark malt! Entire columns could be written about the differences between porters and stouts, so here is a condensed version that hits the high points. In 18th century London, brewers were experimenting with well-hopped beers using brown malt. As the malt bill increased, so did the alcohol content, and many of these beers were drank ‘green’ – immediately after brewing without aging. Some breweries hit upon the idea of aging these stronger beers before releasing them, and soon discovered that age was the magic ingredient for a tastier brew. Allegedly named after the street and river workers, porters had higher ABV% than other standard English styles and were also labeled as ‘stout’ to reflect this hearty difference. As the ABV% gradually crept higher and higher through the 19th century, the porter label was dropped for these beers and the slight distinction that remains to this day came into effect. Most porters are brown or red rather than pitch black like a stout, and tend to stay between 4-7% ABV.
A contemporary innovation is the so-called ‘American Porter’ developed during the craft beer boom here in America. Separating their brews from the English (brown) porter, American porters tend to be highly hopped and use smoked malt in the malt bill. In addition to the larger hop bill, American porters may use an adjunct in the brewing process like coffee, chocolate, or vanilla to complement the intense roasty flavor of this style. These beers may also be aged in re-used barrels such as bourbon, scotch, whiskey, or port wine. Finally, one rare style you may encounter is the Imperial Porter. These are a bit of an oxymoron – remember that porters and stouts originally divorced over their ABV% – but porters over 8% can exist in the wild. These are different from stouts in their color and slightly thinner mouthfeel, with an emphasis on the intense roasted flavor of brown malt.
Recommendations: My favorite porters are ones whose body is not too thin; this is perhaps the trickiest part of the recipe to perfect for young breweries. Balancing the rich, roasty malt flavor with hops while keeping the alcohol level under control is no easy task and some porters can come out tasting a bit thin. Despite their dark appearance in the glass, porters are somewhat of a delicate style to perfect, but oh so rewarding when you find one that works!
Atwater ‘Vanilla Java Porter’
Ballast Point ‘Victory At Sea’ – several variants, most popular is the coffee+vanilla
Boulevard Brewing Co. ‘Bully! Porter’
Breckenridge ‘Vanilla Porter’
Deschutes ‘ Black Butte’
Oskar Blues ‘Death By Coconut’
Sierra Nevada ‘Porter’
Terrapin ‘Liquid Bliss’
DuClaw (MD) ‘Sweet Baby Jesus’ – chocolate peanut butter porter, mmmm…
Great Lakes (OH) ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’
Thirsty Dog (OH) ‘Old Leghumper’
Troegs (PA) ‘Dead Reckoning’ – not always available, but snag these if they’re on the shelf
Whalez, brah! – Track these down on your next beercation if you can find them:
Hill Farmstead (VT) ‘Everett’
Funky Buddha (FL) ‘Maple Bacon Coffee Porter’
Jackie O’s (OH) ‘Bourbon Barrel Black Maple’
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!