It has taken quite a long time for the Decemberists to grow on me. Although they have been around for about 15 years, it is only now that I am beginning to realize their brilliance. At least, enough to write a review of their latest record, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.
THE RECORD: Black Wail- Black Wail [EP]- 2014
I do not write about too many EPs on here because I feel that a handful of songs are not always enough to tell you about a band. Sometimes, however, brevity can be a good thing, because it leaves you curious and wanting more. This is the case with Black Wail’s self-titled EP. Formed earlier this year in Jersey City, Black Wail sounds like just about everything I played on my radio show in college rolled into one band. Even though there are only 3 songs, a sequence-nerd like me can still appreciate their order. “Fools” starts the show. It’s an ideal opener. The isolated drums get your boots stomping, and then the guitar riff comes in. And then it’s just… Rock. That’s what it is. “Fools” is the song you should listen to if you need to get from 0 to ROCK in the first 60 seconds. It’s your first beer of the night song.
The middle track, “Guillotine” won me over immediately; this one is really lead by the keys. The sound harkens back to those 70s Hammond organs that I love so much, but when it flows with the guitars and vocal harmonies, it’s a completely new animal.
Also, “Put your rivals head in the guillotine/make sure people see a horrible scene” is a great line. I want to see a video for that song.
“Dyed” is my favorite track, and I like that it is the last one. In my opinion, it is the most metal of the three tracks, but it doesn’t feel too hard or out of place. Like the way “Emerald” closes off Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak even though you heard “The Boys Are Back In Town” a few songs earlier. Because to me, it’s music for headbangers that can also be booty shakers. I am proud to be both of those things, and looking forward to more to come from Black Wail. The cover art reads “LET JERSEY PROSPER”. Jersey is prospering, alright, and Black Wail is making that fact crystal clear on these 3 songs. Now, please listen to them on Spotify so AFI’s Black Sails In The Sunset isn’t the first thing to come up with I type their name in.
THE BEER: Brooklyn Brewery- The Defender
The Defender is a “hoppy amber IPA” that was brewed for consumption during New York Comic Con. These are not your grandfather’s hops, however. The Mosaic hop arrived on the beer scene only about 2 years ago. It’s one of the first hops that I’ve noticed to have a trademark, although apparently this is something that is becoming more common with newer varietals. It’s the lovechild of Simcoe and Nugget, and whenever I hear that a beer has Mosaic hops, I usually fall in love too. The flavors I took from Defender are tropical, and not quite so overwhelmingly bitter as some IPAs can be. As a bartender, I really enjoyed selling this beer because I think it surprised a lot of people in a positive way. The red malts make it a little bit roasty, which still gives it a taste that is familiar to seasoned (not necessarily craft) beer drinkers. It’s a beer I can nerd out about, and it’s also a beer I could share with my grandfather, or anyone else who doesn’t really care that much about where the hops came from. PLUS it has an awesome label.
I wanted to find a brewery from Jersey City to find a beer pairing with this one, but I don’t know any breweries in Jersey City proper. Please comment below if you know of any to suggest to me. So I chose the Defender from Brooklyn Brewery. It’s not THAT far away, and I almost always drink a Brooklyn offering when I am at my favorite JC watering hole, BARCADE. It’s a geographically based pairing. It also works on a more intellectual level. The EP is only three songs, but it’s enough to tell you what kind of band Black Wail is. For me, they are the kind of band I wish I could be in. Like the way Defender surprises people in a positive way, I think Black Wail would also surprise people. The ways they seem to draw from such a wide variety of influences is like looking through a great record collection. Defender brings the familiar red ale malts and mixes them with a fresh new hop varietal to make something uniquely delicious. Black Wail brings the sound of the classic metal and rock albums that myself and so many others grew up on, and reinvigorates that sound to new life.
It isn’t that hard to put out an album for people. Technology can allow for instant gratification of new music. It is a great thing, but I find that it can make finding new, awesome bands a little overwhelming. But it makes finding hidden gems that much more special.
This week’s case in point: The Insurance Salesmen’s latest, Death Of The Insurance Salesmen. If you don’t live in Cleveland proper, you may not have gotten an easy opportunity to stumble upon this band. Which is, to quote John Waters, a dirty shame. The band is made up of a group of fantastic, multi-dimensional musicians. Yes, it’s a guitar-driven record, but the splashes of horns, harmonica, and the great machine that is the Hammond organ add color and detail.
Photo credit: Zee Molter
There is a riff in the first song “Absolutely Fireproof” that reckons me to think of “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians. I’m not sure why, but it is definitely not a bad thing. It certainly showcases the organ playing.
“Partying On” could be described as Andrew WK’s oeuvre in a song with lyrics like “when the sun goes down forever, we’ll be partying on”. Additionally, those lines pretty much sum up the record. It’s one that you could put on at a party going to the apocalypse; one that might cause the end of the world to be met with the best dance party ever.
“The Monorail Doors Opened Up” is kind of a freaky song, with a long buildup to each chorus, which makes it feel like the listener is getting abducted into an alien party. Organ-playing aliens, but still. Considering their last record has a pair of malicious chalices on it, it’s clear that the Salesmen fly their freak flag with pride, and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Photo credit: Zee Molter
Death Of The Insurance Salesmen does have an overall 60s surf rock/AM gold vibe. However, unlike so many “indie” bands that seem forced and contrived to me, the Insurance Salesmen are pure and genuine in their efforts.
Does all of that sound good? Check out the record yourself, and also check out my trip to Cleveland that I took last summer, and see if it doesn’t make you want to check out the Rock and Roll Capital of the country yourself!
THE BREW: Dortmunder Gold- Great Lakes Brewing Company
Brewing since 1988, the Conway brothers of Cleveland Ohio have been mastering their craft for over 25 years. Lagers are tough, but when made well, they are delicious. In my opinion, they really are the original session beers. Dortmunder Gold was one of the first beers that Great Lakes brewed, and it was quickly proven to be a well-made beer, winning its first gold medal at the 1990 Great American Beer Festival and several more at the World Beer Championships in more recent years. It’s fairly simple for ingredients- with two hop varietals, Cascade and Mt. Hood, and two malts (Harrington 2-Row and Caramel 60). So it tastes slightly sweet, and will have some familiar flavors, but it’s very drinkable.
Photo credit: Zee Molter
I wanted to choose a beer that was local to the Cleveland area for this one. Great Lakes Brewing is only distributed in about 15 states across the country. So like the Salesmen, their beers can be a hidden gem if you don’t live in a state that widely distributes it. Where it is found, however, The Dortmunder Gold lager is accessible to the masses. When I went to Cleveland, I found it in many bars, not just ones that specifically stressed craft beer. Although the Salesmen definitely have a sound that would appeal to those of the indie rock/college radio persuasion, I feel like just about anyone could find some positivity in their tunes.
THE RECORD: Neko Case The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You- 2013 Anti-
I was so excited when the first two tracks from Neko Case’s latest record were available on Spotify, and even more excited when I listened to them and they were AWESOME. This is a wonderful record. The lyrics resonate well with me, and most likely anyone else who has ever loved and lost (so you know, pretty much everyone). “Night Still Comes”, which you can check out the lyric video for below, is my favorite track on the record. The refrain of “You never held it at the right angle” is just one example of the quotable lyric mantras found throughout the album.
“Man” picks up the pace a bit. There are a lot of little nuances on this song that I find to be reminiscent of math rock, such as the complex drumming and the clean, quick guitar riffs. The lyrics reiterate the fact that Neko Case is, in fact, a total badass “you didn’t know what a man was until I showed you”.
I think that’s why I think Case is so great, because she blends such strong lyrics with such beautiful musical orchestration. In so many pieces of music, the strength lies more with either the music or the lyrics, but Case manages to maintain a balance of both on this record.
The vocals are very cool on “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”, oscillating between a single voice and chorus. The simplicity makes this song truly beautiful. “Where Did I Leave That Fire” is similarly beautiful, with soundscapes at the beginning that sound like field recordings in the woods. The soft brushes on the drums give the imagery of feet on the forest floor.
Basically, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You makes me want to write better songs. It’s a quietly inspirational, while being easy to listen to.
THE BEER: Wolaver’s Organic Oatmeal Stout- Middlebury, VT
This beer is delicious, and one of my favorite varieties, the oatmeal stout. Delicious flavors of coffee and dark chocolate, with some earthy notes in the aroma. Slightly hoppy, to balance out the sweet flavors.
Pours a deep espresso color, with a cream-colored head. Really awesome with food, looking forward to drinking it with some beer-brats and smoky cheeses.
THE PAIRING: I chose a beer from the state Neko Case resides in, Vermont. She pretty much lives in my dream house, which you can take a tour of here.
Neko’s latest is an album you can sit with. Even though it’s only August, the already falling leaves and pumpkin beers lining the shelves tell us that autumn is on its way. We can get back to drinking frothy oatmeal stouts and curling up with a good record that has great lyrics that you can reflect upon. Preferably while sitting in a room like this.