I picked up the Ithaca Box of Belgians: 12 bottles of four different Belgian-style beers. The first Music Box series went well, so I decided let’s do it again! Beer tasting is subjective and influenced by everything from your mood to who you’re with. So, why not lean in to that and listen to a full album while drinking the beer and see what happens?
The beer: Ithaca Fleur de Belgique (Belgian India Pale Ale)
The music: EMA, The Future’s Void (2014)
Initially, The Future’s Void sounds like exactly what I wanted out of another EMA album: music not necessarily interested in sounding pleasurable. Sort of like when I finally tracked down Foetus, a story I’ll save for another day. “Satellites” starts with deep bass alternating with static, before EMA’s haunting voice comes in over dark pianos. This has everything I want in a song.
The Fleur certainly tastes like a Belgian IPA, the esters mixing with the hops to create extra bitterness ala the Half and Half 1. I get a solid malt backbone lending sweetness and a spicy, nearly funky yeast characteristic.
As I consider all of this the static ends on “Satellites” and “So Blonde” starts, first with a drum fill and then guitars that make it sound nearly like a country song. The chorus contrasts the pop sensibilities in the foreground with distorted screaming. It reminds me of Stabbing Westward’s “So Far Away,” a song I haven’t thought about in a while.
During “3Jane” I fill out the profile of the beer in my “33 Bottles of Beer” notebook, reflecting on how I gave up tracking my drinking habits on Untappd just to start doing it analog. I have my reasons, mostly dealing with mindfulness: the notebook uses more than a 1-5 star rating scale, including the bitterness, dark/citrus fruits, etc, and so I have to really think about the beer.
“Cthulu”: I dig the title, and the plodding beginning, but you missed an “h”! Or does the Lovecraft estate discourage unlicensed use of the elder god’s name? I know Metallica used “Ktulu.” This song sounds more along the lines of what I expected from EMA: slow, vocal driven (out of character for me to like) and abrasive. A melody exists, but you have to take it easy and allow it to find you.
I think the funk I get from the Fleur may come mostly from the hops. My wife would say it tastes like earwax.
Be still my heart. This song. It has a certain kind of yearning wail that I love, alongside The Fragile style synth and an omnipresent big, thumping bass drum. I feel so, so happy I bought this album.
I look at the bottle. Hello there, lees. I’ll have to use care as I pour out the last of it.
As far as pairing the music to the beer, I did a pretty poor job. My decisions were made based on how much time I had (the albums for Boxes 7 & 8 each clock in at over an hour long as opposed to The Future’s Void‘s 45 minutes, and I’ve got some housework to do) and which bottle I grabbed from the case. The beer tastes bright while the music sounds dark. I think the album would pair better with a dubbel or imperial stout: something to coat your tongue in oil as you sink deeper into the music.
Some music has a designated purpose for me. It sounds almost wrong outside that context. I listen to “Disposition” by Tool as a “changes in life” song, thanks to me listening to Lateralus in the dark the night before I went away to college. I mostly stopped listening to The Wall because it had become my album for anger and isolation and, well, I became older than 20 eventually. I listen to EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints when I want to feel dirty. Unfinished, gritty, slightly angry. Imperfect.
“Neuromancer” begins, the song NPR’s All Songs Considered played that made me say “There’s a new EMA album??” and rearrange the Music Box schedule to accommodate it. It probably stands as the most emblematic yet accessible song so far, showing the raw, noisy-to-the-point-of-distortion instruments but without being too abrasive about it.
The beer continues apace. The hops have faded a bit as I’ve gone, an inversion of the usual Music Box formula. It seems unassuming: I’ve been focused on the music and the writing and so it has remained present, but in the background. When I pick it up and look at it and swirl it in my mouth I taste the hops and the Trappist yeast and their interplay, but then my attention turns elsewhere and it becomes a wallflower.
“100 Years” reminds me of her “California,” but without the anger (“Fuck California / You made me boring”). Discordant strings come and go in the background, the best match thus far for the beer. The yeast flits in and out, surprisingly out of place against what I’m expecting, and then fades out again until the next sip.
One listen in and The Future’s Void has hooked me in like no album has since alt-J’s An Awesome Wave. Did you go to retail on June 6th, the day I wrote this? If so, you heard this album. Chances are, you’ll hear this album when I’m on retail most days for quite a while.
The beer hasn’t grabbed me as much. I’ve enjoyed it, especially as the yeast/hop interplay has become more apparent, but it has no hooks to dig into me. Now that I think about it I don’t know a beer ever has. I should do the “beer monogamy” experiment I talked about so long ago.
Fireworks sound over “Dead Celebrity,” the dirge ending the album. A somber end to a somber album, but one I quite enjoyed. Thank you, EMA, and thank you Ithaca.