Monday, March 26, 2012

The Record Binge, No. 1

Whether you're being liquified under the godless Coachella sun, running the internet jukebox at your favorite dive or just knocking 'em back with your bros on the porch, iPod on shuffle, music and beer share a pretty mutualistic relationship. (If you didn't take or pass Bio 5A, go here for a strained metaphor). And so in this spirit records (at times older, mostly newer) and bottles of quality brew shall be paired and reviewed together, as they should be.

This time: Dr. Dog's Be the Void and Abita Brewing Co.'s 25th Anniversary Vanilla Doubledog

The Record:

I’ve always kind of been a sucker for Dr. Dog. At face value they seem like they’d be a pretty easy band to hate: they have a stupid name, they really wish they were from Liverpool in the 60s, they’re from Philadelphia (the list could go on-and-on). They wear sunglasses when they play the late night show circuit (see?). Yet, even though everything about this band ostensibly exists solely to pay glaring homage to the gilded age of pop music, I still find myself drawn to their particular brand of pastiche. And that’s because to me, a Dr. Dog record always sounds a lot like a bunch of blue-collar dad-dudes passing around a bottle of Jameson and jamming nostalgic in the garage far past their bedtime. Fuck the neighbors. Fuck the boss and the mortgage. Especially fuck the critics if they think we sound like the Beatles. It’s pretty hard to hate on that.

That comparison seems exceptionally apt this time around. Be the Void more or less plays out like your pops’ band’s get-togethers. That is to say it’s pretty terribly front-loaded with quality material. “Lonesome” leads off as a mid-paced warm-up stomp, lightly distorted with gang vocals and background shouts. It’s quintessential Dr. Dog and painfully likeable. Lead single “That Old Black Hole” is a tight bass- and accordion-led ramble that kicks into gear about halfway through before letting loose to free-for-all, feel-good hand-clapping and ending abruptly. Exploiting the momentum, the band fly straight into “These Days” (most surely the best song they’ve written in the last two years) and really hit their stride; it’s the collision of a perfect groove, a perfect guitar line and a perfect buzz. It continues like this for a couple more jams.

But at some point (we’ll call this point “Side B” for, you know, convenience), the returns start to diminish appreciably. Blame it on overreach, blame it on the booze or the direct correlation of the two, whatever… but at some point the itch to play the drummer’s song or extend a solo an extra 10 bars becomes too great not to scratch. The cops get called and the glory days put on hold. In truth this kind of ill-advised excess is as much a part of any Dr. Dog album as are the relentlessly optimistic harmonies. (Or as in the case of Fate, this can end up being like ten-elevenths of the album). Here, though, the transition is decidedly abrupt and made worse by the fact that the first 5 or 6 tracks are so solid. Were it not for “Over Here, Over There” and album-closer “Turning the Century” the back half of Be the Void would be entirely dismissible.

If you’re new to Dr. Dog, I’d maintain that the only place to start is We All Belong, where the extent of their melodic capabilities are most thoroughly explored and their wilder inclinations are kept in check throughout. But if you've already been there / done that, you'll certainly find a couple of their finer cuts on Be the Void.

 The Brew:

For a brief period of time when I was in college, I volunteered in a research lab. I fucking hated it. Amongst a long list of things I like that are not conducive to a laboratory setting are sunlight and spending large portions of my day not conducting 8-hour experiments that I had unknowingly botched sometime during the first hour. It takes a special kind of person to laugh that sort of experience off and try again (“That’s what it’s called ‘RE-search!’” ß lololol FUCK THAT).  I likely would have quit after my first day had it not been for a couple overriding coincidences of interest: 1) I like hot women and, apparently, the professor that ran the lab liked hiring them; 2) I like good beer and said hot women inexplicably liked it the same.

It was this unrequited pursuit of damsel and drink that had me pretending for a couple of months to be super big on brown ales as a fictitious point of contrived commonality. (It really is a wonder how something like that could end poorly, amiright?!) However, en route to a resounding thud, I was at least fortunate enough to be introduced to Abita Brewing via their Turbodog english brown ale and not, as is regrettably the case for most women and a wide swath of Riverside’s downtown hipster elite, with that raspberry bullshit they call Purple Haze.

Generally speaking, I don’t much care for brown ales, but I do love Turbodog. It has all the warm and rich characteristics in the body that make brown ales enjoyable. It’s substantially malty and has noticeable chocolate, toffee and caramel flavors. What I like about it most, though, is that the nuttiness that I always feel overshadows so many brown ales is pared way, way back. There’s a hint, but it’s slight. Everything is cohesive, nothing is overly assertive.

Abita’s 25th Anniversary brew is essentially a Turbodog with vanilla beans added to it as it ages. It retains a lot of the maltiness, to be sure; however, it does not wield the same level of nuance and restraint. The vanilla dominates the beer at the front, and though it yields quickly to a more well-rounded profile, each approach is rather alarming to at least some extent. Ultimately, its presence feels unnecessary, rather forced and very excessive. The beer succumbs to the very debacle it originally managed to avoid with the nut flavor. As a 22-ounce excursion into novelty, it's certainly doable, but when heading back to the well, I'll most definitely opt for the original instead.

The Pairing: 

I was about halfway home from La Bodega when I realized the shared canine-centric nomenclature of the band and brew. It was honestly accidental, though upon recognition I definitely wished I had done it intentionally. Neat coincidence aside, the pairing is better on paper or pixelated screen than in reality. The unremittingly sunny harmonies found on even the weaker Dr. Dog songs make Be the Void ideal for an early afternoon summer kickback pre-game session. Put it on, play some ping-pong, switch to something else about halfway through. In contrast, the Vanilla Doubledog is something I'd probably save for a work night as a one-off after dinner beer, enjoyed whilst attempting in vain for the umpteenth time to give a damn about Mad Men so I may finally feel at least somewhat normal.

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