Welcome to the fall edition of What’s On Tap! Cooler weather pairs nicely with cool tunes and the first fall seasonal beers this month – let’s rock!
Cambridge-based musician Jellica is a veteran of the chip scene, having released 14+ EP/LP online, running the Kittenrock netlabel, and performing live both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Jellica’s style is somewhat fluid between releases, moving deftly between various genres of electro-pop oriented sounds.
Released on August 31st, Jellica’s newest offering ‘Retrotech Romance’ is a masterclass in SID sounds, with dual Commodore 64 chips pumping out waves of intense textures and funky rhythms. An interesting aspect of this album is that it takes time – each track is at least 4:00 long and all evolve organically rather than using a standard verse/chorus approach. In the style of the American minimalist composers Philip Glass/Terry Riley/John C. Adams, musical events unfold over a series of minutes rather than seconds. Sometimes these are small nudges to the musical orbit rather than colossal impacts; the addition of a higher set of accompanying blips or a 7-tone melody that unfolds over twenty seconds. In our current environment of 140-character snippets, ‘Retrotech Romance’ closes out the summer with a marathon session of electronic jams.
’16eightspeedtwomot’ prominently features percussion from start to finish with constant, active rhythms that never manage to get too complex. Elements are slowly added approximately every 32 bars; sparse melodies, a wandering bassline, and high blips in the texture. The most intriguing portion of the opening track is its coda, where the last few moments seem to shift 180 degrees into new sounds and textures. This new direction is not explored at all, but instead ends abruptly. Opening with a quiet, introspective track is an interesting choice for this album, and one that seems to encourage the listener to lean forward with interest at what happens next.
Contrasting with the opener, ‘centre letters remixxSE7’ begins with a groovy drum and bass beat that contains a good deal of rhythmic activity. The background progression is quite interesting; listen carefully and notice that it gradually becomes more dissonant as added notes swirl around consonant chord tones. This dissonance contrasts well with the slightly more tonal bassline and melodic ideas. The middle section at 1:50 suddenly becomes much heavier, featuring distorted sounds and that oh-so-lovely pulse width modulation that is a hallmark sound of the SID chip.
‘cpremi2x8two’ (say that three times fast!) begins with a beautiful texture filled with filters and PWM between both C64 chips. These shimmering layers are very reminiscent of the orchestral works of John Adams, and are evident of the care and skill put forth by Jellica. Constantly shifting filters and PWM flow through an increasingly dense chordal texture before expanding to the first clear appearance of a musical theme that recurs throughout the album. The progression i-VII-VI emerges from the texture for the second half of ‘cpremi2x8two’ – click the provided link for a clear presentation of this theme in a different context. Added tones in the texture above the bassline make this progression slightly more dissonant and complicated than other occurrences on the album, but if you listen closely you will definitely hear these notes return in many of the tracks.
Finally, some of the figuration and the dense opening chord comes back within the texture of the second half. This type of musical return is rare on the album, making this one of the only clear instances where Jellica hints at opening material after three minutes of development.
Heavily distorted drums and glitchy bleeps create an ethereal texture in ’16drumsteel13′ that would make Trent Reznor drool. A melody made up of long tones glides effortlessly over this busy texture, which is one of my favorite moments on the album. The middle section contrasts with the chaotic pitch space of the first half with more standard tonal progressions, including a return of the i-VII-VI theme. Some of the erratic rhythms are carried over here, connecting the two sections in seamless fashion. One surprising element of this track is that the opening material does not return. ’16drumsteel13′ is structured similarly to the first album track, but the new material here is instead expanded upon and lasts for half of the track instead of a short coda. Additionally, there are four ambitious remixes of ’16drumsteel13′ included at the end of the album.
Noise channel swells and steady echoing triads accompany a herky-jerky drumbeat, and made more uneven by a wobbly, slightly tipsy bassline. The rhythmic structure in ‘7funk44vers2’ is the most ambitious on the album, seemingly sounding like the two SID chips are programmed each at a slightly different tempo. Whatever is happening here is complex, and it sounds great. Subtle transitions are not present in this track; the effect here is one of closing a practice room door and opening another to reveal a completely different ensemble. Music in the second half keeps steady quarter/eight pulses but elongates phrases roughly in a pattern of 4/4 + 5/4. These extra beats are sometimes obvious when the bassline holds a note, and others are played straight through. The tempo may be aligned between the rhythm section and accompaniment, but any inkling of a strong downbeat is nonexistent.
Jellica’s latest release ‘Retrotech Romance’ rounds out the summer of 2017 with a healthy dose of funky electro jams. Each track slowly evolves over time, morphing effortlessly between small changes and the occasional new sonic landscape. Rhythm plays an important part in these additive musical textures, with chittering and whirring percussive elements driving each track forward. The length of each track manages to never feel overly taxing; no musical moment on the album manages to overstay its welcome. Jellica has put a great deal of effort into showcasing the beauty of dual SID chips, and any chip music fan would do themselves a favor by taking time to listen to this excellent work before the weather turns cold once again.
Featured Beer Style Pairing: Oktoberfest/Märzen
History: Oktoberfest beers find their roots in the brewing tradition of Germany and Austria. Oktoberfest is the contemporary name for the Märzen (March) style of beer that is coppery to gold in color, with a mild hop profile and a toasted caramel sweetness from Munich malt. Before the invention of refrigeration, German brewers found that the hot summer months were not conducive to brewing beer. Historically, this style was brewed in the spring – March, hence the name – and kept in cold storage in caves during the summer. Despite the contemporary association with the Oktoberfest celebration, this style is intended to be enjoyed in late August through September and not actually in October.
Recommendations: Paste published a list of the 55 Best Oktoberfest/Märzen beers in a blind taste test, which is a great starting point for those inclined towards lists. This is a tricky style to get right, and I have found very few American craft breweries that manage to get the balance correct between the malt, hops, and sweetness of the authentic German beers. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I am an employee of Great Lakes Brewing Company and these views are entirely my own. They should not be interpreted as an endorsement by GLBC.
Authentic German Brewers
Ayinger ‘Oktober Fest-Märzen’
Spaten ‘Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen’ (my favorite of these)
Bells Brewery ‘Octoberfest Beer’
Samuel Adams ‘Octoberfest’
Sierra Nevada ‘Oktoberfest’ (collaboration with Brauhaus Miltenberger) – supposed to be the GOAT this year!
Yuengling ‘Yuengling Oktoberfest’
Boulevard Brewing ‘Bob’s ’47 Oktoberfest’
Firestone Walker ‘Oaktoberfest’
Great Lakes Brewing Company ‘Oktoberfest’
Harpoon ‘Octoberfest Beer’
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!