BEER STYLE: DARK ALE
ALBUM GENRE: SYNTH ROCK/POP
This week’s bottle, I will outright admit here, is possibly my weakest link yet. We’re taking a look at Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders’ 2018 album Blue Poles, an album I recently picked up, whose album cover happens to be blue. Brewheadz and Seven Sisters’ “Dark Wheat Duck” collaborative brew is bottled with a blue label. As of the beginning of my writing this post, I have no idea if that link will go any further, so buckle up…
Jack Ladder joins a host of artists spurring on a modern revival of 80s musical features, be it in the power pop tunes of Alex Cameron, summoning Springsteen vibes or the sultry entrancement of Donny Benet or Har-Mar Superstar. Ladder’s music, for the most part, leans towards a slightly more British influence, with some tracks instrumentally and occasionally lyrically comparable to the likes of XTC, Kate Bush and a recurring undertone of Roxy Music. His voice is often compared to that of Nick Cave, a deep Australian serenade, with a lot of Jack Ladder’s work comparable to some of The Bad Seeds’ more accessible output.
I first heard of Jack Ladder through a random appearance on my Spotify playlist, another song I’d accumulated at some point but had become lost until its faithful moment being picked by the shuffle button. 2014’s Playmates does little to shy away from the 80s comparisons, glitzy synthesizers prominent on many a track and this one in particular, “Come on Back This Way” is a prime example.
Researching Alex Cameron led to the discovery that Jack Ladder had toured extensively alongside Cameron and seemed to mix in the same sort of musical crowds. Due to my then obsession with Forced Witness, I looked into Jack Ladder further, soon discovering Blue Poles…
Brewheadz’ “Dark Wheat Duck” was, as previously mentioned, chosen entirely on the basis of its blue label. It’s a dark ale, it pours as such, a thick off black colour topped off with a head that looks a little bit like Thames Estuary spume. This beer intimidates me. I like light IPAs and summer ales, often things that could pass as an out of date soft drink. The Duck looks like a pint of something a quiet man in a flat cap would be swigging while he eyes you with suspicion across a busy pub floor.
The bottle quotes flavours of dark chocolate and deep roasted coffee, tastes that, upon my first sip are clearly rather prevalent. It goes down smooth, leaving a bitter aftertaste not dissimilar to that of the last sip of a black instant coffee. It’s vaguely metallic, intensely hopped, but with a hint of floral tones on the nose and a hint of a hint in the taste. This beer hits the spot in some places and misses in others for me. Initially, I expected a heavy, thick drink that coats the back of my throat until the next drink washes it away. I expected a heavy hitting bitterness that causes me to dread each and every sip. To some extent, I got what I expected.
I won’t go so far as to say I loved this beer, but its smooth coffee-chocolatey tones distracted from the slightly overpowering bitter metallic flavour of hops. I would, however, go so far as to say that it is one of the more tolerable hoppy dark ales that I’ve tried so far and despite my aversions, I found this a surprisingly pleasant drink.
Back to Blue Poles. I discovered this album through hearing a series of its singles, starting with White Flag, mildly disappointingly not a Dido cover, but instead a slow, slightly spacey ballad which sounds as though it could easily have come from an alternate universe Nick Cave. This is one of the few slower tempo tracks, with most other tracks, such as Can’t Stay, Dates and Tell It Like It Is opting for slightly more aggressive paces.
Tracks such as the opening two: Can’t Stay and Dates are two of the album’s forefront examples of Jack Ladder’s British alternative 80s tinge. Can’t Stay sounds like a Roxy Music single with Bryan Ferry having been replaced with someone trying to be just as suave. Dates sounds like the product of a romantic weekend getaway between Andy Parsons and David Byrne. Then there’s Blue Mirror which sounds like a confused Kate Bush B-Side. Blue Poles is an album of a few brilliant moments but a fair amount of little else. White Flag, Susan and Feel Brand New all offer strong hooks and narratives alongside a hybrid of various styles of alternative music in their instrumentation, meaning that they’re easily burrowed into your subconscious. Whereas tracks like Blue Mirror, Merciful Reply, I.N.M. and Tell It Like It Is all seem to fall short of their companions’ stature, feeling like filler, padding out between those few gems that stud this album’s track listing.
In conclusion, Jack Ladder’s Blue Poles offers features that make enduring it worthwhile.Despite the near Christmas song level closing track, my constant replays of Feel Brand New and White Flag makes it worth the cost of the album and the occasional endurance of some musical sighs, much like the way in which “Dark Wheat Duck’s” smooth, rich flavours counterbalance its comparability to chewing on a screw and make drinking it a well disguised pleasure.