This month’s edition of ‘What’s on Tap?’ is fortunate in its timing, with a new release matching up perfectly with the beer style I wanted to discuss this month. Combining PAULA POWERED’s new chip punk EP ‘Level Up’ with good weather and a cold hefeweizen is a recipe for success.
Many of the artists that I review on the ChipWIN blog – most notably Danimal Cannon and Norrin_Radd – gravitate towards heavy, complex music. While I enjoy music in this vein, the simplicity of the textures and importance of the message inherent in punk music is something that also really speaks to me. In their new EP, PAULA POWERED blends punk ethos with well-produced chip music mixing vocals, guitar, and the Amiga 1200. Although punk is often intentionally lo-fi, fans can expect to hear slightly more melodic singing and fantastic production from this release; think less Germs/Minor Threat and more Clash/Stooges. Onward!
PAULA POWERED is a multi-national collaboration between Sally Ann (vocals), Sylvain de St Pierre (guitar), and their trusty Amiga 1200. This British-French duo has worked together since 2010, performing live and recording some of the original demos that eventually ended up as fully-realized tracks on ‘Level Up.’ They describe their sound as ‘Digital Punk, bringing the 80’s retro sound into the 21st century,’ and all of those words are music to my ears. I adore tastefully blending guitar and chip elements, and adding vocals into the texture is a lovely bonus. This EP has a surprisingly diverse amount of sounds between the five tracks, and some of the longer tracks have quite a few intriguing musical ideas hidden within.
The opening track on ‘Level Up’ is also the first song written by the duo back in 2010, recorded here for the first time. ‘Hazy Crazy’ is perhaps the most punk-sounding work on the EP; simple textures, driving beat, and increasingly unhinged vocals from Sally Ann remind me very much of Darby Crash’s work with The Germs. The lo-fi nature of this track also adds a bit to my hearing this as a true part of the punk tradition, although Sylvain must have insisted on at least tuning his guitar before recording – take note, garage bands! A simple two-chord vamp recalls a bit of ‘London Calling,’ and Sylvain’s guitar is excellently blended into the texture with the Amiga. I love the bassline throughout the tune, and the little instrumental interludes between verses do an excellent job of breaking up the texture to keep things interesting. Finally, the hazy nature of the title, lyrics, and recording blend perfectly with the hefeweizen beer style this month – thanks PAULA POWERED!
If a track uses the obnoxiously grating noises of a modem establishing a connection, you know that it’s about to be a banger! The inspiration behind this track is slow dial-up internet, the bane of anyone living in a rural area without Sylvain’s guitar work is brought to the foreground on ’56k,’ and the mixing here is fabulous; it sounds great on a variety of speakers in my setup or on headphones while running. Sally Ann’s vocals are crystal clear here as well, cutting through a busy musical texture with ease. ’56k’ is the longest track on the EP, and this allows time to feature both the live performers and the Amiga. The thumping octaves in the bass recall many retro pop tunes in the disco, and I enjoy the contrast between the aggressive guitar-driven sections and those moments with just the bass.
‘Wish Command’ is a sensual love letter from Sally Ann to the Amiga, inspired by the opening command ‘Your wish is my command’ in the audio editor. Sylvain’s guitar again blends well with the Amiga drums and bass, with a little inspiration from The Pixies. The slower tempo of ‘Wish Command’ helps bring out some of the sultry layers from Sally Ann’s vocal, and the stripped down layers in the verse work really well with the lyrical message. The contrasting nature of the simple musical texture in the verse with a busy chorus is great, and makes both sections sound strikingly unique. Listen to the bridge that starts around 3:50 to hear what could have easily been the entire texture for the song, combining palm muted guitar strokes with the Amiga bass. What elevates this track for me is the texture is saved nearly until the end and not repeated throughout. Love it!
Queen of the Battleground
‘Queen of the Battleground’ is a delightfully aggressive romp where PAULA POWERED returns to their punk roots from the slower ballad-like exploration of the previous track. Sally Ann finds inspiration here in Chun Li from Street Fighter II, super-kicking all challengers with an aggressive vocal style that still retains a small bit of sexy finesse. Sylvain’s musical riffs are his ode to playing International Karate on the Amiga, slinging minor pentatonic jams through all opponents. When listening to this EP in track order, ‘Queen of the Battleground’ feels exceedingly short after two 6:00+ tracks, which is not something I would generally feel about a 3:00 song! The combination of high-energy music and in-your-face lyrics makes this a stand out track on the album that never overstays its welcome.
Through a little programming trickery, Sylvain manages to program an exquisite track in triple meter on the Amiga – bravo! The synth patches are top notch here, with the driving bass blending with keyboard-like chords and arpeggios throughout. The lyrical message in this song finds Sally Ann trying to be perfect in the eyes of others, before ultimately realizing that you must be true to yourself above all else. The pacing of ‘Tried Can’t’ is done quite well, never letting up on the opening energy level until the final bar. This feels like a coherent end to a fantastic collection of songs, and definitely leaves me wanting to hear more from PAULA POWERED.
British-French duo PAULA POWERED combine their talents with an Amiga 1200 to create strikingly diverse Digital Punk music. From stripped down lo-fi anthems to retro dance music and even a sexy ballad, PAULA POWERED manage to pack a lot of varied music in their latest EP ‘Level Up.’ The production of this album is fantastic, and the elements of guitar and chip music complement Sally Ann’s vocals in a fine way. Fans of chip bands like Anamanaguchi and J. Arthur Keenes may find PAULA POWERED a little more abrasive than their usual playlist, but the varied sounds on ‘Level Up’ are sure to please any fan who appreciates honest music with a message.
Featured Beer Style Pairing: Hefeweizen / Weizen (Wheat Beer)
History: Weizen (‘wheat’) beers originated in southern Germany, and the defining characteristic of this style is the use of wheat in the brewing process instead of 100% malted barley. Brewers often mix equal elements of wheat and barley, but some recipes can skew that ratio of wheat:malt even higher. Another important element of wheat beer is the specific yeast strain used during fermentation, which creates banana and clove flavors in the beer. Low hop bitterness and a tart, crisp flavor are characteristics typically found in traditional wheat beers, and the alcohol level typically ranges between 4%-7%.
Recommendations: Wheat beers come in a range of styles – Berlinerweisse, Kellerweisse, Gose, even wheat IPA – but today’s pairing is the hefeweizen. Hefeweizen is a hazy wheat beer that is traditionally unfiltered, allowing the yeast to pour with each pint. Brewers may also ‘bottle condition’ these beers, which leaves a little bit of active yeast at the bottom of each bottle before sealing. You may drink a bottled hefe in two ways, either leaving the last quarter-inch in the bottle, or pouring the entire contents into the glass. A good pour of a hazy hefe is a thing of beauty, and the unfiltered nature is a little nod to the punk tradition carried on by PAULA POWERED.
Ayinger Bräu ‘Weisse’ – widely available in the USA, excellent example of the style
Franziskaner ‘Hefe-Weisse’ – probably the easiest of the German brewers to find in the USA, although I slightly prefer Ayinger
Hacker-Pschorr ‘Hefe Weisse’
Weihenstephaner ‘Hefeweissbier’ – classic German beer and one of the best
21st Amendment (CA) ‘Hell of High Watermelon’ – a fruity hefe for sure, but a good one
3 Floyds (IN) ‘Drunk Monk’
Boulevard ‘Unfiltered Wheat’ – THE classic midwest summer beer
Fat Head’s (OH) ‘Goggle Fogger’ – mmmm, delicious
Hopworks Urban Brewery (OR) ‘Nonstop Hef Hop’
J. Wakefield (FL) ‘El Jefe’
Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery (MN) ‘Hefe Weizen’
Nebraska Brewing Co. (NE) ‘EOS Hefeweizen’
New Glarus (WI) ‘Bubbler’
Night Shift (MA) ‘Furth’
Odell Brewing Co. (CO) ‘Easy Street’
Urban Chestnut (MO) ‘Schnicklefritz’ – my #2 favorite hefe on today’s list
Victory (PA) ‘Mad King’s Weisse’
Wormtown Brewery (MA) ‘MassWhole’
Whalez, brah! – Track these down on your next beercation if you can find them:
Ed. note: hefeweizen isn’t a sexy, chase craft beer style among beer nerds. However, there IS one that is well worth the trip if you’re in the southern USA…
Live Oak (TX) ‘HefeWeizen’ – this is the absolute best hefe I’ve ever had, and Live Oak makes a bunch of other great beer. Check them out next time you’re in Austin!
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!