(Don’t) Spin the Wheel: Nostalgic Music Wine Pairings

This week I overrode the randomizer and chose two songs myself as a way to reacquaint myself (and acquaint you all) with two bands that I’ve spent some time away from. The first, Atom and His Package, I haven’t listened to at all since high school. The second, The Besnard Lakes, I’ve only listened to sporadically since last summer. Shame on me on both counts.

Atom and His Package – I Am Downright Amazed at What I Can Destroy with Just a Hammer

This song is one that you listen to and just grin the whole time. The lyrics are absurd, chronicling a trio of college-age kids who buy a fixer-upper and realize only one of them knows how to repair things while another is marginally useful. The other one, bored with the process and with being utterly unhelpful, roams about the house indulging in destructive fantasies with his trusty hammer.

The instrumentation for this song is all provided by Atom (Adam Goren), who plays a guitar and a synthesizer, and his “Package,” a sequencer, a hardware music device that allows him to play multiple recorded or generated instrument sequences simultaneously while focusing on his live guitar-work and keyboarding. He snaps back and forth between chorus and verse with nary a pause in some sort of ADD stream-of-consciousness flood, the synthesizer barely keeping up with the manic output. The synth drums maintain a ridiculously quick 4/4 time signature, sounding more like an overexcited metronome than an actual instrument.

This song is giddy, simple, and short. It seems to me like it would pair very well with a late harvest Riesling. A late harvest Riesling stands well on its own, is enjoyable by even casual drinkers, and works when you don’t want a wine that commands focus and attention. The flavors are generally safe, harmonious flavors that match the higher sweetness and acidity levels: floral, light fruits, minerals. It’s almost syrupy sweet, though just acidic enough to give the wine some depth. Atom and His Package is assuredly irreverent, but there is enough substance, social and political commentary, there to keep it from being overindulgent nonsense.

Other songs by Atom and His Package include “The Palestinians Are Not The Same Thing As The Rebel Alliance, Jackass,” “(Lord It’s Hard to Be Happy When You’re Not) Using the Metric System,” and “People In This Computer Lab Should Shut the Hell Up.” If you need a good dose of angry, harmless, funny, nerdy punk, well, I think you’ve pigeon-holed yourself very nicely. Enjoy!

The Besnard Lakes – And You Lied to Me

Wine first. Considering I’ve only had dry Tokaji before, it would be dishonest of me to pair this with an Aszu. That’s fine, because I think a dry Tokaji goes very nicely with this music. Its acidity and residual sugar, though both generally fairly standard at around 6.5 g/l, are paired with a higher alcohol level (typically 14% and up). Higher alcohol, within reason, tends to enhance the flavors inherent in a wine, so long as the acidity and sugar aren’t overwhelmed.

Everything about a good Tokaji would be described as sumptuous. The acidity is very active, providing a nuanced mouth feel that I would liken to the feeling of ball bearings rolling across skin. The sugar and alcohol balances with the acidity well, giving the wine a very full, sensual flavor. The complexities in this wine persist through a long finish, many different aspects of fruits, minerals, and herbs constantly jostling for attention. The wine is simply chill-inducing.

Chill-inducing describes this song perfectly. There are few bands that warrant headphones, closed eyes, and focused listening. For me, The Besnard Lakes always command that dedication of my time. This song in particular makes me stop and listen no matter what I’m doing at the time.

The ominous vocals, sung both solo by Jace Lasek (also the guitarist and keyboardist) and in chants with his wife Olga Goreas (also the bassist), cast a surreal pall over the ornate instrumentation, pumping wave after wave of distraught emotion into the rising, triumphant guitar riffs to maintain a continual dissonance, a sense of unease. They fill empty spaces between verses with subdued distortion and wavering vocal harmonies, barely holding the song together and making the anticipation for each resurgence palpable. Like a dry Tokaji, the sweetness is tempered by a subtle mordancy; the song embraces dichotomy.

And, like any good wine, the complexity persists through a long finish. Generally, after the final verse of a song, a repetition of the verse or chorus riff or a guitar solo ends abruptly or fades out. The Besnard Lakes instead begin a second guitarist’s distorted guitar interlude before the final repetition of the chorus, replacing the chorus riff. As the chorus ends, another guitar solo begins, with a third guitarist and guitar bringing in a cleaner, slower sound. The original guitarist, Lasek, playing a subdued version of the chorus riff underneath of the solos, suddenly comes forward with a hammer-on solo as the third guitarist fades away, providing the most complex guitar-work seen thus far before one final choral riff finishes the song.

I would have a hard time finding a more appropriate metaphor for the progression of the flavors of wine from the attack to the mid-palate to the finish than this song.

Spin the Wheel: Rock Music Wine Pairings

We’re back with another one of our patented music-wine pairings. Our two selections today ended up being some variation of the punk genre, though they’re departed enough that I would simply classify them as rock. These were especially a lot of fun, and I’m pretty happy with the pairings that resulted. What do you guys think? Give them a listen and toss up your own pairing. I know we have some music geeks in the audience!

Letter Kills – Carry You

The first band to come up was Letter Kills. I’ve been hyping these guys up a lot on Twitter, and with good reason. They engage in a brilliant combination of modern-day punk rock and 80s metal, producing a style that lifts them up out of the cesspool of scene kid bands clogging the airwaves.  Because they stood out from the pack, of course, they never developed a following, and their first album was their last. And no, I’m not just being bitter.

The drummer jumps in and out of syncopation with incredible ease, and he absolutely loves moving around the drumkit in 16th-note fills. He’s also a huge fan of big snare hits and playing the bell of his crash cymbals, an homage to 80s metal. The vocalist has his own manic style, complete with raw, whooping calls to energy (What I say? HA-HA! Aww-Right!), but he’s got the pipes to pay homage to his flamboyant hair-metal influence. The lead guitar moves between punk and metal picking during the verses, usually sticking with standard quarter-note punk chords for the bridge and chorus and embracing full on metal guitar solos when necessary. The rhythm guitar and bass are relatively simple, though they provide the dirty, churning backdrops appropriate for either style.

To pair with this band, I’m looking for a blend. What kind of blend? I’m thinking a red blend, not a big red, probably something medium-bodied. These guys are punk-metal-lite, after all. You won’t catch them breaking bottles over their heads mid-show, and I think I even saw a little bit of make-up on the lead singer once. Because they combine an old metal style with contemporary punk, I’m thinking an old-vine, young-vine blend, something that brings the strength of a bigger, more tannic grape representative of more entrenched wine culture but combines those qualities with a younger, more common upstart. Maybe a Mourvedre or Carignan, two localized, rich and complex varietals, blended with Grenache, a wide-spread, softer grape that needs a little help to stand out. Hell, why not toss them both in there? This is my blog, and I want a three-grape blend to match my broken-up punk-metal-pop-scene band, and that’s what I’ll have.

Vampire Weekend – A-Punk

I’m glad Vampire Weekend came up, because I’ve been looking for an excuse to post a Frizzante. Vampire Weekend embraces the indie trend of slightly off-the-wall takes on popular music style. The best way for me to describe them would be something cobbled together from a few successful bands: The Clash, with their world-beat-inspired guitar-work, intricate but subdued drumming, and a vocalist who manages to sound both whimsical and passionate; The Decemberists, with their out-there lyricism, head-tossing rhythms, and anachronistic conceits; and Pavement, a band that managed to not crumble under its popularity, instead maintaining some sort of stubborn obliviousness to the outside world as they continued to produce music that defied the close scrutiny warranted by Pitchfork-styled music critics.

Sweet, condensed, effervescent, I would compare Vampire Weekend to a Moscato d’Asti. They’re subdued enough to not strike me as resembling a full-on Spumante, and they sound so innocent even as they address societal concerns. They’re simple, basic, but just a little bit outlandish. If you were trying to introduce someone to Italian wine, especially a sparkler, and you knew they had no palate for wine, a Moscato d’Asti would be a good place to start. If you wanted to introduce someone to indie rock, and you knew they weren’t ready for the absurdity of Xiu Xiu or The Unicorns, the lo-fi meanderings of No Age or The Moldy Peaches, or the overwhelming vastness of Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene, someone like Vampire Weekend is a good bet.

Also, I really, really wanted to post that video. Those guys are so fun.

Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings

The cool thing about wine is that the experience pairs well with not only food, but with any number of activities. You can sip a fine, complex wine while listening to an orchestral serenade, a light, fruit-forward dessert wine during a comedy, or a jug of Two-Buck Chuck during a tailgate (though I hope you at least use a glass). One guy I know likes to pair Chardonnay with his hunting trips. Whatever you’re into, I’m positive there’s a wine out there that’s perfectly suited to it. Because one of my passions is music, specifically independent music, I put a lot of thought into pairing different wines with music. I figured today I would share a couple of my musings on the subject with the randomizer on my music player as an inspiration.

Hercules & Love Affair – Blind

Hercules & Love Affair is a remarkable band that has taken musical anachronism in a different direction. While most independent bands that look to the past for their inspiration usually settle on emulating the new wave style of music pioneered by Devo, Duran Duran, The Cure, and all the other awesome bands that get mocked in pop culture nowadays, Hercules & Love Affair look to ignite a disco revival. Their music wraps European-style modern electronica and male/female vocals around the four-on-the-floor funk beats of classic disco, making them one of the few bands left that can call themselves “unique” and not sound like they’re in denial.

To match this unusual band, I’m looking for an unusual wine that might not be characteristic of its varietal. To match the flamboyance of an electronic disco artist without going with a traditionally sweet or exotic varietal, I think I’d have to go with a Vouvray. Made from Chenin Blanc, which usually produces drier, very aggressive and fruity white wines in its traditional environments, produces incredibly complex and harmonious wines when allowed to fully ripen in warm seasons in cooler climates. When Vouvray has a good growing season (which is happening more and more often due to global warming), the wines develop additional notes, a floral, honeyed character and a crisp sweetness that, well, is a reason why these wines are becoming a quick favorite of mine. The wine ages very well, too, which reflects the classic music influences of Hercules & Love Affair. Let’s face it, Vouvray is a very active wine, both in its high acidity and complex flavors, and like disco, it just makes you wanna dance, whether you want to admit it or not!

Bishop Allen – Calendar

A carefree band that revels in its minimal instrumentation, Bishop Allen has long been one of my favorite bands. I discovered them while I lived in Lynchburg, VA, not knowing that they were at the same time stationed in Lynchburg as a temporary reprieve from life in New York City. They have an honest affection for folk music, surprising complexity in their instrumentation, and a positive outlook that tempers even the most somber of subject matter. Justin Rice, the lead singer and guitarist, is a perpetually awkward 20-something, and in fact plays the lead as a perpetually awkward 20-something in Mutual Appreciation, one of my favorite movies. He chronicles this attitude, though, with maturity and a good sense of humor.

What to pair with Bishop Allen? I want a young wine that’s fresh and fruity, fairly light-bodied, but with a mature enough structure to be taken seriously. I’m leaning towards a New World Sangiovese. These tend to be brighter, less bitter, and more floral than the traditional Italian style, yet still retaining the red wine’s inherent acidity and tannic character. After the initial burst of playful red fruits, there’s potential for darker fruits, spices, even tobacco, the hallmarks of richer red wines. Once you get past the youthful enthusiasm of Bishop Allen, you’ll realize that, in their upbeat way, they like to tackle some pretty heavy topics.

Any music enthusiasts out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. This was a lot of fun, and I definitely plan on doing this again. I might even make it a weekly feature.

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