…”Annihilation” is a story swinging both ways.

The “Southern Reach Trilogy” created by writer Jeff VanderMeer and published in 2014 is a high-point of recent speculative fiction. Being pointed in the direction of both the books and the later movie adaptation of the first installment of the series by my colleague D is yet an example of the merits of listening to people with good taste. I very much share his impression of these books as a H. P. Lovecraft for a younger generation.  There´s spooky natural phenomena going on, which will forever change the fate of the persons involved. Although the books provide some sort of closure for the main characters, there´s no feel-good happy ending to the saga. Instead you get a ride into a unique imagination filled with ambiguity and just sheer strangeness. Nothing really gets explained and at the end you´re left with more questions than answers.

These are books that will keep you thinking for a long time about the stories, the metaphors and the audacity of it´s writer in creating something so strangely unique. Mystical, sprawling and hard-hitting at the same time, these stories are hard to classify in a way that you rarely encounter nowadays. While writing this I´m getting ready for my third re-read, which is something that almost never happens.

Some parts of this work emerging as a movie was almost inevitable, while no-one could really be expected to transfer the special feeling of this material to the screen in a fully satisfactory way. The movie “Annihilation” is pretty much what could be seen as a reasonable interpretation of some of the themes from the book. Best seen as a work of it´s own, separated from the deeper universe of the books, this is still an at least partly enjoyable film. If you need to choose and have the time, read the books. Otherwise the film will give you a glimpse of what´s actually there in this story.

 

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…Koval is inventive and unique – American whiskey tasting no 13.

Koval

The Koval distillery was established in 2008 in Chicago, by Robert and Sonat Birnecker. Building on traditions from Robert´s Austrian family the distillery chose to make spirits from locally produced grains, processed and distilled at their facilities. A decision setting them apart from many of the whiskey-boom producers just bottling spirits made somewhere else.

Koval Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, 94 proof (47%).

Koval bourbon

Made from a unique mashbill of the requisite 51% corn with the rest being millet, a grain used for food as well as alcoholic beverages mainly in parts of Africa and Asia. To my knowledge Koval are the only producers using millet for whiskey.

Liquid honey coloured and a nose with light fruit notes, mostly apricot, followed by more subdued vanilla and caramel. Neat in a tasting glass you get initial fruit, more apricot, leading over to some sweetness and ending with pepper and a light burn. Very elegant and sophisticated.

Koval Single Barrel Whiskey Four Grain, 94 proof (47%).

Koval four grain

Made from a mashbill of corn, malted barley, wheat and rye, this is a whiskey with a totally different character from the previous one.

Very similar to the bourbon in colour, but with a nose beginning with pretty powerful banana fudge and treacle, malt, fleeting vanilla and ending on dry spice. Neat in a tasting glass you get a whiskey with a full mouthfeel, beginning with a short burn giving way to caramel, fruit and a closing rye spiciness mixed with oak. This one packs a lot of taste and is really, really nice.

Koval Single Barrel Whiskey Millet, 90 proof (40%).

Koval millet

Here we have another unique product from this inventive distillery. A whiskey with a mash bill of 100% millet farmed in the American Midwest.

I suspect that it´s the similarities of the barreling techniques used for these whiskeys that makes their colours so similar, if not to say undistinguishable. The nose begins with light and pleasant citrus notes, fruit and ending on black pepper. Neat in a tasting glass you get mild and delicate notes of almost liqueur- like sweetness, with a drier ending of spice. Certainly a most unusual whiskey and an interesting experience.

Koval Grain Spirit Rye, 80 proof (40%).

Koval white rye

I´m a bit confused over this one, though. There seems to be an earlier series of products from the distillery with different bottles and labels, including a white rye whiskey. The present Koval webpage lists a “White Whiskey Rye” in their product line, while my bottle says “Grain Spirit Rye”. Not entirely sure that these two are the same.

Regardless of that, here we have a distillate based on rye that has not been affected by maturing in oak barrels. The drink is crystal clear, with an aromatic nose of citrus and pine needles. Neat in a tasting glass you get a drink almost totally without any of the spicy notes you´re used to expect from rye. More like a less botanical gin or a more tasty vodka. There´s initial sweetness giving way to floral notes and ending on very discrete, almost imagined peppery spiciness. Not a drink I would enjoy on its own again, but I would very much like a trial of exchanging gin and vodka for this one in several cocktails.

Koval Single Barrel Whiskey Rye, 80 proof (40%).

Koval rye

Colourwise resembling their other output. A fruity nose with apples, pears and grain. Neat in a tasting glass you get fruit, apples and pears, followed by a finish of light pepper spice. A most unusual rye with a character all its own.

Without a doubt a distiller worth following through the coming years of experimentation. High ambitions and skills, as well as a willingness to go beyond what is expected when it comes to process and raw material.

…2018 w 11 – Album of the week is “Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls”.

 

What´s actually spinning on your turntable any given week is very much up to sudden changes in mood, or the usual game of association. This week we´re going way back to 1980, which saw the release of an exceptional album that´s haunted me through the years.

Forming the band “Penetration” in 1976 Pauline Murray was a vanguard of the punk movement in her part of Britain, and made herself a name as an incendiary singer, songwriter and artist. Releasing  two studio albums under the “Penetration” name she later continued her career as a vehicle for the visions of Factory Records demon producer Martin Hannett, as part of the Invisible Girls.

Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls

With songs written by Murray and ex-Penetration boyfriend Robert Blamire the band also incorporated musicians from The Durutti Column and Buzzcocks, as well as the cutting-edge productional skills of Martin Hannett. It´s hard to remember anything he was involved with during these years that seriously failed. My huge respect for Hannett is embarrassing enough to own an album consisting only of experimental sounds used or not used for the early Joy Division records.

 

 

Apart from his reputation as unwordly maverick sound genious he was also known as a hard-core addict of alcohol, heroin and all other substances under the sun, ultimately leading to his too early demise in 1991. However, before that Hannett was involved in so much of the best music of his time. A record being produced by Martin Hannett made someone like me buy it totally unheard, which made me a proud owner of the first Stone Roses 12″ “So Young/Tell me”. Not much there to indicate future success.

 

 

“Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls” is an album of only great songs, delivered and produced flawlessly by fantastic musicians and a producer at the top of his game. I rember very well the feeling of this album hitting the music scene. No commercial appeal to talk of but artistically just so good. An album to be listened to again and again. Even though the vinyl version is the Holy Grail, the CD re-release contains later singles that also needs to be heard. Here´s great songs in fantastic arrangements. A continuos sonic fellow since 1980 that will never go away. Listen and be in awe.

…2018 w 10 – Album of the week is “Kinder Versions” by Mammút.

Mammut Kinder Versions

Released in 2017 this is the latest record from Icelandic band Mammút formed in 2003, this being their 4th album so far. The fact that singer Katrina Mogensen is the daughter of Kukl-alumni Birgir Mogensen matters less than you might think, while still anchoring the group firmly in the Icelandic indie rock succession order . Although fiercly and wholly original, some aspects of their overall sound probably owes something to the legacy of The Sugarcubes. Echoes of the vocal style of early Björk appear in some of the songs, which is not a bad thing if you´re asking me. For example, title song “Kinder Versions” could easily have been an alternative universe follow-up to the third Sugarcubes 12″ “Deus”. I´m not sure that the band enjoys this type of comparison, but for me it´s amongst the highest possible praise.

This song also delivers some of the gradually developing dramaticism perfected by Australian band The Triffids, in the case of Mammút bubbling under the surface creating an intoxicating mix of tension and restraint.

I got this record shortly after it´s release, but haven´t had it on heavy rotation until recently procuring their album nr 2 and 3, which by the way are also absolutely great. There are many bands with technically proficient musicians able to play almost anything imaginable , but fewer who are also good at choosing exactly what is necessary to convey the feeling of the song without overloading the sound.

I really like this collection of evocative and emotional songs. Accessible as well as serious, accomplished while still often sounding deceptively simple. Filled with drama, beauty and dissonance.

A group well worth discovering if you haven´t already. I so much hope to be able to see them live on some future trip to Iceland.

…it´s great and straight from Kentucky – Whiskey tasting no 12.

fighting-cock-6yo-kentucky-bourbon-whiskey

Fighting Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 103 proof (51,5%).

One of many in the huge line of products from the Heaven Hill distillery (or Heaven Hill Brands as it is now called) www.heavenhill.com , this is a whiskey aged for 6 years and bottled at a fairly high proof. The mash bill is an undisclosed percentage of corn, barley and rye, with an extra dose of rye claiming to add increased spiciness.

Pretty deep amber colour and a nose with vanilla, caramel, leather, pepper and nutmeg. In a tasting glass with a few drops of water you get a beginning of corn sweetness together with some alcohol burn, giving way to a finish dominated by rye spiciness and some oak. In a tumbler with ice the sweetness of the nose is toned down, instead dominated by spice and oak. The palate remains about the same, but with a toned down intensity.

All in all not an unpleasant whiskey, packing quite a punch. Much better than the first impression you get from the hideously ugly bottle. Still not something I´m likely to return to.

John B Stetson Kentucky Bourbon

John B. Stetson Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 84 proof (42%).

Making every effort possible to look old and traditional, this is a fairly new brand of bourbon manufactured by the Stetson company, www.stetson.com/bourbon mostly known for the Stetson hat. Distilled by an undisclosed Kentucky distillery (rumoured on the net to be Heaven Hill) and containing a mash bill of corn, barley, rye and wheat. The whiskey is aged for four years before bottling.

The colour is light amber, and the nose first hits you with sharp ethanol. Repeat swirlings and sniffing gives first a strong rye spiciness and then some softer vanilla and caramel notes. Neat in a tasting glass there´s sweet vanilla, white pepper and grain with a pretty short finish. A smooth bourbon not without character, that becomes even smoother in a tumbler with ice.

As mentioned earlier, the bottle goes for old and traditional. Embossed glass, drawings of the Old West on the label and a small booklet attached to the neck by a leather band. In spite of it being all marketing it looks kind of nice. This whiskey could be a good entry bourbon but is nevertheless really no match for today´s artisanal distillates.

Kentucky Vintage Bourbon

Kentucky Vintage Bourbon, 90 proof (45%).

One of four small batch whiskey´s distilled by the Willett Distilling Company (formerly Kentucky Bourbon Distillers) www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com . The production of small batch bourbon in Kentucky goes back to the 1779 “Corn patch and cabin rights” law, giving settlers who built a cabin and grew a patch of corn the right to free land. Distillation of bourbon as a way of keeping the corn from spoiling soon became popular and gave rise to a tradition continuing to our day.

No age statement except “long beyond that of any ordinary bourbon”, and no information on the mash bill. Manufactured wih the sour mash method in small batches and numbered bottles.

Medium amber colour. A rather short nose which initially is only alcohol, but after a few swirls shows mostly corn, vanilla and oak. Neat in a tasting glass you get an initial alcohol burn followed by some caramel, black pepper and a hint of almonds in the surprisingly short finish. In a tumbler with ice the whiskey mellows considerably and tones of caramel and vanilla appears. On the palate it´s considerably smoother but mostly sweet.

The bottle is designed to give feelings of tradition and age, and actually manages quite well. There´s a wax seal (almost impossible to remove), a wax medallion and a mini-booklet attached to the neck of the bottle with a piece of string.

Although sometimes much lauded, I find this whiskey to be pretty much a disappointment. While much effort has been put into its making there´s not that much real character here.

Larceny Whiskey

Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 92 proof (46%).

Taking its name from the crime defined as “the unlawful taking of the personal property of another”, this is yet another whiskey from the Heaven Hill distillery. Again having a fascinating backstory, that may or may not actually be true, this distillate still intrigues.

In 1870 John E. Fitzgerald started a Kentucky distilling company, selling his wares to railway lines, steam ships and private clubs. During prohibition the Old Fitzgerald brand was sold to legendary bourbon profile Pappy Van Winkle, who changed the mash bill into using wheat as the second grain instead of rye. According to bourbon lore, John Fitzgerald was later revealed to be a treasury agent, using his access of keys to the whiskey storage facilities to pilfer whiskey from the best available barrels.

Larceny bourbon is made as a heir to the wheated bourbons of the Old Fitzgerald brand. A small batch bourbon produced from 100 or fewer barrels selected from the 4th – 6th floors of Heaven Hill´s warehouses in Kentucky. Larceny is blended from barrels 6 – 12 years of age under the control of Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam.

Dark, glowing amber. A complex and enjoyable nose that opens to vanilla, caramel, toasted oak and a dry spicy finish with traces of cinnamon. Neat in a tasting glass you get a very well-balanced whiskey with a rounded mouthfeel beginning with corn sweetness and ending in dry spice. In a tumbler with ice the nose keeps its complexity while the palate turns smoother while still keeping the basic character.

Coming in a large, chunky bottle that´s very appealing to the eye, with the key and lock implicated in its background story neatly implemented into the design. I think this whiskey is a real find and together with Knob Creek one of those bourbons I would like to always own a bottle of.

…2018 w 09 – Album of the week is “Choir of the mind” by Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton.

Emily Haines

Musical wunderkind of great Canadian group “Metric” as well as an important part of supergroup “Broken Social Scene”, Emily Haines also has a career singing her own songs under the name “Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton”. Soft spoken and piano-based, this is stuff that´s both high-quality and with a deeply original voice. Although what I like the most about Emily Haines is her melodic quirkiness and musical prowess, it´s difficult not to be affected by the cover picture of the artist in glowing blue dress holding a black baseball bat with orange rubber gloves. Empowerment, musical competence and attitude as well as a play on her obvious physical beauty is very much a part of her allure. However, nothing of this can reduce the punch of her original songs.

Please check her out and be prepared to be blown away. What is considered to be the fringes holds so many great things.

 

…”Blade Runner 2049″ is an astonishing accomplishment.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

When the first “Blade Runner” movie appeared in 1982 it seemed to be an impossible proposition. Turning Philip K. Dick´s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” into a film with mass-market appeal wasn´t an easy workaround. Going from deeply philosophical musings on the essence of being human and the meaning of suffering, to an action story fuelled by environmental disasters, decaying cutting-edge technology and physical frailty wasn´t a small order. Director Ridley Scott went out on a limb and made a movie initially not considered all that great into an enduring legacy. Gone were the usual sci-fi of whooshing self-opening doors and people robotically moving about in similar uniforms, exchanged for a view of the future as a sprawling mess of the same combination of high-tech and low-life later perfected by writers like William Gibson.

Blade Runner original

There are several different cuts of this film and I´ve watched them repeatedly through the years. The divergent versions in some cases differ on small details, but there´s also cuts with significant changes in the ending. I´ll leave it to you to decide with one you like the best. However, as sci-fi movies go you won´t find anything significantly better than this.

That considered, a follow-up would from the beginning seem totally pointless and ultimately inferior. Why mess with something that´s almost perfect? Regardless of these reservations the new “Blade runner 2049” movie does push things forward. A considerably more bleak rendition of a world of further environmental decay and urban sprawl. The combination of that with a planet-wide traumatic loss of important information inducing a kind of collective amnesia sets the stage for barely controllable forces.

A superior society of genetically pure humans opposed to manufactured replicants serving as the new lower class, racial slurs and all. The still difficult question of what it means to be human. What is a memory? What is a personality? How can we determine the genuine from the manufactured, and does it even matter at all?

“Blade Runner 2049” is a movie with a starting point in a classic in it´s genre, while taking off on a tangent of it´s own. The storyline exhibiting enough excitment and novelty, while still respecting the confines of the original story. Inventive and suitably dark. I wonder how many will get the origami-reference of the scene portraying the meeting between Ryan Gosling´s replicant blade runner and the old age Gaff from the first movie. Not very important in itself, but still a great nod to the original material.

Here we have a movie with both an exciting and original story as well as visuals well beyond what can reasonably be expected. This type of film should be impossible to make, but it´s been done and I absolutely love it.