Friday, March 18, 2016

Brewsic Club 1.2 - Birds

The brew had fermented and Abigail was ready for her final phase of gestation. While the bottles were being filled, we decided upon a quick theme of Birds - two songs and a beer match, if you so desired.


My first pick is from a recent acquisition, Swindle. He is a talented producer from the UK who originated from the gritty London Grime scene, went through Purple (look it up) and ended up making a p-funk, Zapp influenced, dubstep, jazz and electronic mash-up with his album Peace, Love and Music. The general vibe reminds me of Bassment Jaxx or Deekline and Wizard at their most creative and energetic. Blackbird has massive stabbing synths, sweeping strings and birdsong samples galore.

I matched it with Garage Project, Fringe Fruit Edition, that see's an equally interesting mash up of cucumber, mint, lime and hops to enliven the summer palate.


The second pick was from Martin Green. I've been going through an English folk revival of late and this song summons a scene of a crepuscular ploughed fields in autumn - ravens scowling around empty furrows - their distinctive rasping kraas echoing back off fog. The song is called Three Ravens from the album Crow's Bones. Deliciously arranged Celtic instrumentation breathlessly rasps and kraas, supporting a fragile female voice.

Matched with Thornbridge Brewery's Cocoa Porter for a dark, rich, smooth taste of the motherland to wistfully indulge melancholy with.


When I saw Andrew Bird in Pittsburgh on the Noble Beast tour he complained that he'd had to get up early that morning to fly to Chicago to appear on Oprah. This was a problem, he said, because he hated getting up early almost as much as he hated flying. Not much of a bird. 

Spare-ohs, from Armchair Aprocrypha, is about birds. Specifically, it's about his chickens. The chickens met a cruel fate at the hands of American wildlife, and finches and sparrows used the ex-chickens' feathers to build nests in the chimneys of the houses in the neighbourhood. Bird imagines these feathers going up in flames and turning to ash, drifting across town and onto the ignorant populace below. The song then veers into a drunken conversation/meta-commentary during which he accuses himself of the obviousness of the cycle of life imagery before being called "too obstruce." He responds, befuddled by the made up term, "I just thought it was a kind of bird."

Before I could get very far through my spiel about Bill Callahan's Too Many Birds, Tim accused me of letting Callahan become my Brian Eno, in reference to a former music club member who found an Eno tune for every theme. Slander of course, as I've never actually played a Callahan selection at music club. Piqued, I switched my choice to Birds of Maya's bluesy noise rock High Up On The Hill. Birds of Maya are a Philedelphia band whose guitarist, Mike Polizze, went on to form low-fi outfit Purling Hiss, who themselves are connected to the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile. The whole song could be a taxonomy of central American avian species for all you can hear the lyrics, but it's good rowdy fun.


The first soft porn I ever saw was in a hotel room in Rotorua. I was 9, the guest of my rich friend Jeremy and his family. We had finished a fine evening playing Hero Quest, but for some reason Jeremy wanted to stay up till midnight to watch a nature documentary on Sky One called Birds of Paradise.

I was still two years from puberty, so even once the film began I couldn't quite understand why there were no birds in sight. I was disappointed because I knew from Willard Price's novels that the Papuan avians are famed for their beauty.

My first song commerated this event - Bird of Paradise by Charlie Parker. It's smooth 50s jazz evokes the playboy mansion, except in this case one overseen by the Bart Simpson version of Hef, bubble-blowing pipe and all.

My second song could be read as the soundtrack to the sequel - a song celebrating my eventual eruption into puberty. Birds of fire by the Mahavishnu Orchestra is one of the best jazz-rock excesses of perhaps the best ever jazz-rock band, capturing well the excitement and confusion of that most awkward stage of life.


My choices are by two Irish bands.

Lonnie by The Electric Penguins

The only link between birds and The Electric Penguins that I'm aware of, is in the name, so this one is a little tenuous. But that's ok, having seen little exposure over the last decade even by Irish standards, I'm sure they'd be happy with all they can get. The EPs are a two piece from Dublin, who interestingly chose 'Goodbye from the Electric Penguins' as the title to their first album back in 2006. This didn't make too much of a spash (pun intended) upon release, and I only came across it by a colleague handing me the CD to try while we worked together. That used to happen, before electronic media took away the tangible aspect of music sharing. They stayed on my conscious ever since, this album being a pleasant, electronic swell of indie dream-state that I come back to any time I want to bop to more than wallpaper music, while still keeping functioning eardrums.

74 Swans by Bell X1

The great thing about this YouTube clip is the band introduce it themselves, so there's little I need to say here. This is the first time I've chosen Bell X1 for Music Club; it was always going to happen for a couple of reasons: 1. I really like them, 2. they're from my home town and went to my school. They've been described as being second only to U2 as Ireland's most popular rock band, and have released 6 albums with limited success outside of Ireland. And they started off known as Juniper with Damien Rice as lead singer. This track is from their latest album, Chop Chop, and some random person on sumarises the meaning as: "Given the fact that swans mate for life, it's like he's talking to a woman that he's in love with, but we find out at the end that she's with somebody else and that he's on his own."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Brewsic Club 1.1 - Concept Albums

We decided to combine our love of music and beer with the ambitious first foray into Brewsic club (play a whole album each while we brew some beer). Jake invited us, thus:

The theme will be concept albums. Ever since Woody Guthrie's Dustbowl Ballads, musicians have used the 12 inch, 33rpm record as a physical platform for sustained artistic expression outside the radio-friendly unit shifting format. In this dismal age of Spotify Discover Weekly playlists, we shall use the time given to us by an all-grain brew day to celebrate vision, artistry, and self-indulgence.

How do we know it's a concept album? Does it have a complete narrative from start to finish? Definitely a concept album. Strong themes linking the majority of songs? Maybe a concept album. Greatest hits compilation? Probably not a concept album. It's a bit like porn, I guess.  It's hard to say exactly what it is but you know it when you see it.


 My choice for this inaugural 'Brewsic Club' is King Diamond's first concept album, 1987's Abigail. The story, set in 1845, follows a couple, Miriam and Jonathan, who move into an old, inherited mansion, at which point they're warned by mysterious horsemen that there's to be danger afoot should they not stay away. Through some ghostly plot development, we and the couple, learn of the previous owner of the mansion, who killed his unfaithful wife and delivered and entombed her stillborn daughter, Abigail, some 80 years previous. Miriam soon becomes very pregnant, with the child growing inside her at a ferocious pace. They decide to kill Miriam to prevent this abomination entering the world, but the whole thing backfires when Miriam finds herself possessed, kills Jonathan, delivers Abigail mark-2 and dies leaving Abigail to run a-muck when she comes of age. It's heart and gut wrenching stuff played out in the falsetto-laden 80's shreek-metal style that defines King Diamond. And despite that, it's a damn good album. Enjoy!

Post Script: The name of the Red IPA was duly christened Abigail (a-big-ale) due to it's evil assault on the senses and the likelihood that it's presence will be felt long after it has possessed us. Jake is considering an overarching series concept that will include the following brews to look forward to: Still born bourbon-aged stout, Count La'Fey Belgian ale, yellow-eyed witte, 18 will become 90/- wee heavy.


Haken are a band that only do concept albums - they are also stalwarts of the prog-rock scene, which is awash with highfalutin concepts and noodly navel gazing. Their second album is called Visions, which was chosen because the music and lyrics are fantastic guides through the curious catacombs of a troubled mind. The music is also the best reflection of an album length concept that I have yet heard: Recurring themes crop up throughout the duration, and the musical story ebbs, flows, intrigues and supports the lyrics seamlessly. The musicianship is quite simply amazing. You want dramatic pauses, carnival sideshows, James Bond allusions, mild delusions, deep contemplation, narrative twists and turns? They compositionally nail the lot.

The concept is that the guitarist had a lucid dream of death then crafted this story about a boy who does the same, growing up fearing and readying himself for the final moment. When it arises he sees that the killer is actually a former self caught in this deja vu death trap. The lyrics seem to mention a shape shifting sister, that I can't seem to fit into my understanding of the story. Schizophrenia? Maybe. It's just an amazing album on many levels. I've listened to it all the way through many times and couldn't resist doing so again while writing this. Genius!


We played this music while brewing beer. To me alcohol is an inter-temporal energy transmission device - a means to borrow emotional and mental energy from your future to increase the intensity of now, at the expense of tomorrow. In 1984, Bob Mould may not have been brewing beer but he sure was drinking a lot of it. He would drink so much in fact that a few years later he went teetotal. But in the meantime, he borrowed from his future and created an album of incredible density of mind and spirit, along with his collaborator/competitors Grant Hart and Greg Norton as part of iconic hardcore punk band Husker Du. Zen Arcade is their concept album, although I enjoy it much more for the shredding guitars and furious drums than the lyrics. The lyrics tell a story of a young man lost and wandering, eventually waking up sweaty in the album's highlight for me, a 15-minute hallucinogenic jam called Dreams Reoccurring. But regardless of the lyrical content, all the songs express directly the grating nervous internal state of being young, pissed, pissed off, and with no idea how to make sense of the world or one's place in it. The fact that Bob Mould is gay and grew up in the midwest of the 1970s gives this emotion more heft that the usual teenage angst. It is an album that could only be made by people in their early 20s, and I'm sure will never be topped by those who made it, as much as I like Bob Mould's later solo work. Great music to drink beer to.


The Hold Steady are responsible for a couple of great concept albums, and for their first four albums at least, might have been described as a concept band as they developed lyrical and musical motifs, following a handful of characters through druggy, messed up lives on the economic, social and spiritual margins of the American midwest. Separation Sunday, their second album, doesn't quite tell the story of Holly, a teenage girl whose rebellion leads her into a life of drugs and drug dealing, casual sex and prostitution, and born again Christianity in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul. This is loud, bar room rock, but the lyrics traverse biblical allusions and intertextual references to past and future Hold Steady records, and evokes a striking sense of place. This is the America of Springsteen and the Replacements, where the lives of scoundrels become epic, and where Holly's return from the wilderness, crashing a church service to tell the congregation how a resurrection really feels, really feels like redemption.