Best Drinkin’ Music of 2010

Before I started writing about beer, before I even liked the stuff, I spent a lot of time critiquing music, movies, and video games. During that time, I acquired a passion for music that nearly matches my thirst for beer. And I discovered (during exhaustive field research) that they go surprisingly well together. Beer stimulates emotion and memory — so does music.

First, I should clarify: The following CDs are not necessarily my top three. They’re among the top twenty or so, sure, but some of my favorites simply didn’t pair well with any beer imaginable. For example, Katsuhiko Maeda’s latest World’s End Girlfriend release, Seven Idiots, is an orchestral electro-rock masterpiece that combines breakneck beats with catchy riffs and culminates in a 10-minute-plus salvo of sound-collage madness before tapering into a restrained piano outro. No single beer could match its intensity and oddness. Maybe several drunk in quick succession. Or one megabeer brewed by robot wolf-kings from outer space.

Titus Andronicus | The Monitor

Each year, the oversaturated indie rock genre produces at least one CD that grabs me. In 2010, it’s The Monitor. This album kicks ass without concern for what you think of its discordant vocals and off-kilter Civil War parallels. As each track bounds into the next astride excerpts from ancient speeches, and trumpets blend with harmonicas and even bagpipes, you start to realize that these are colonial pubs tunes, music for a young America, that proud land of exiled misfits. But The Monitor also decries what that land has become. Like the best of our forefathers, it rouses the rabble with purpose. Its methods of expression may be raucous and polemical, but they are purposeful nonetheless. And that purpose needs a beer to match its brashness.

Refusing to base my choice on the band’s recommendation (Keystone Light), I procure a bomber of Stone’s Double Bastard. It looks like Arrogant Bastard but smells quite different. Fragrant raisins and other dark, sweet things copulate in the air with floral hops, lulling the drinker; the first sip, however, kicks for the teeth. Double Bastard gives no quarter. It almost tastes like port wine, but beered up: Tannin dryness blends with intense hop bitterness, and although dark fruit and smoked vanilla soften the beer a bit, it only intensifies as it warms.

Unlike its little brother, this beer prances across a tightrope of flavor to slap you in the face. It’s a balanced but ballsy beverage, a grown-up beer, a nostalgic vision of barrel-chested American virility — and it matches this album perfectly. But watch yourself; just like The Monitor, Double Bastard will chew you up. If you’re listening while drinking, the 11.2% ABV will warm you up and shake your bones as bass strings hum and singers howl, and only afterward will you realize you were singing along out loud.

Indie Rock Runner-Up: Cloud Cult | Light Chasers

Fishtank Ensemble | Woman in Sin

Infusing its sprightly gypsy-jazz style with influences from all around the world, Fishtank has crafted a record that could make even the most skeptical jazz listener jig like a madman. On Woman in Sin, the group plays to its strengths, unleashing singer Ursula Knudsen’s fearsome voice on nearly every track. You won’t understand this woman’s presence until you listen. She booms like operatic thunder; she croons in Spanish alongside flamenco guitars; she rolls sassy Rs as if she’s Edith Piaf. The music, eclectic and brilliant by itself, is pulled along behind the ferocity and versatility of that voice. Woman in Sin requires a beer that’s full of the same spark and worldly spice, so I’ll need a beer from — well, where else?

I uncap the first Belgian ale. Starts with a Z. Claims to be a Flemish ale brewed using “mixed fermentation.” It’s blended with a kriek but tastes more like grape soda to me. I’m not saying it’s bad; Zoetzuur is fruity, bubbly, and easy to drink. But I think this album demands more complexity.

The next Belgian comes from a more trustworthy source: Chimay. The monastery’s famous Blue, a long-time favorite. In fact, Blue introduced me to Belgian beer, so it will always have a special place in my liver. Wait … gross.

It pours dark brown with hints of red. Soda-fountain foam rises and then settles in a swirling nebula of bubbles. The smell is nice but surprisingly light, with hints of plums and something a little funkier, a little more unusual, like figs or other fruits from exotic shores. The taste is that same dark fruit steeped in spiced rum. As always, it’s a wildly complex beer, and every batch is a little different. Never pass this up — especially if Fishtank Ensemble is pulsing from a nearby speaker.

Finally, I try a lambic that’s been cut with peach juice. It’s deliciously tart but also sweet, not overly complex but easy to drink. It complements the music well, transporting you to a street-side café in Brussels or Marseille or some other European city I can vaguely picture without ever having gone there.

World/Jazz Runner-Up: Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate | Ali & Toumani

Anais Mitchell | Hadestown

I enjoy folk, but not the kind many think of when they hear that word. I rarely listen to the mellow folk-rock of the 1960s; I prefer music from decades even further back, when folk meant banjos, harmonicas, musical saws, toe-tapping melodies, and stories of love, loss, life, and home.

Hadestown is a folk opera. Actually, it’s a depression-era take on the Orpheus myth that weaves its harrowing tale via chain-gang anthems, raucous bar songs, and ballads about love so far gone it’s nearly forgotten. There are some awkward sing-talky moments, but also several gorgeous ones, such as “Wait for Me,” in which sandpaper-tongued Hermes maps the bitter road to hell while Orpheus wails to his lost wife, “Wait for me/I’m coming with you.” Combine that with lush instrumentation and you have one of my favorite folk releases in years. Hadestown deserves a beer with that same earthy, soulful substance.

The first one I try is Rogue’s Hazelnut Nectar. I already love this brown ale, and I thought its mixture of nuttiness, chocolate, and toasted malts would pair well with this music. I was mostly right, but something seemed off. Could Rogue’s Pacman yeast provide too clean a flavor profile, too crisp a body for the dusty roads of Hadestown? I move on to a stout.

Deschutes, another Oregon brewery, has a solid one named Obsidian that just happened to be sitting in my fridge. It tastes like coffee beans and smoke and bitter pine. Like chocolate encased in earth. I doubt I’ll ever be able to listen to Hadestown again without craving this dry, delicious stout. Now I just need to see it performed live.

Folk/American Runner-Up: Munly & The Lupercalians | Petr & the Wulf

Comments
20 Responses to “Best Drinkin’ Music of 2010”
  1. Deb says:

    We need to get together for a beer & some music!

  2. Jeremy Deal says:

    I haven’t listened to Titus, but I otherwise am loving this list… my fav beer (CHIMAY!), Cloud Cult, Fishtank, Anais…. this is the perfect reason I suspect our secret relation & subsequent birth separation….

    • Scott says:

      Indeed! And yeah, Titus was a late-in-the-year find that quickly became a favorite. You should give it a few spins … if our taste similarities hold true, you’ll love it.

  3. Anita says:

    Your way with words lead me to send Anchor Christmas Ale to my step father for Christmas…he loved it. I’m now convinced I must check out some of this music, while drinking the recommended beer of course…

  4. Ryan says:

    Great pairings my friend, if I weren’t a slave to the man I’d be indulging in your suggested alcoholic/musical libations!

  5. Scott says:

    I just realized that I sorta neglected purely instrumental music with this list … aside from World’s End Girlfriend, I also loved Talons – Hollow Realm and Daniel Bjarnason – Processions, among others.

  6. Douglas says:

    Hey Scott! thanks for the shout out. I like the pairing with the Chimay. (doug from Fishtank Ensemble)

  7. Ben says:

    i’m shockingly indifferent to titus, love fishtank, haven’t heard mitchell, but i can say with authority i love all those beers.

    • Scott says:

      Titus was a bit of a grower for me … I didn’t get it right away either. But good call on the beers, m’friend. 😀

  8. Anias Mitchell sounds beautiful and whimsical. Definitely going to check her out! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Plants says:

    I’m glad I found your blog. I appreciate credible notes and interesting opinion. Can’t wait to reading more of your notes!

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