Monthly Archives: April 2014

…2014 – w 18 Album of the week is “Here comes the wind” by The Envelopes

Here comes the wind Formed in 2005 by members hailing from Sweden and France, first album “Demon” was released the same year. Although making some waves in the indie circuit it was more youthful charm than an accomplished work. The different loose ends found on first album slowly came together for 2008´s “Here comes the wind”. A modern pop adventure with the edge of early Talking Heads married to the craziness of The B 52´s, topped off with a totally irreverent inventiveness all their own.
This is a truly remarkable collection of songs, bucking left and right in cleverly unexpected ways.

Opener “Party” shows the same wonderful boy/girl vocal dynamic as in the best moments by The Sugarcubes, Phillip Boa and the Voodoclub or the above mentioned B 52´s, while at the same time managing to craft an array of disparate ideas into a both beautiful and adventurous 3+ minute pop song. So great it will make you sit up and listen.

“Heaven” is stuttering pop gliding into a sweetly flowing chorus followed by quirky instrumental interludes. “Smoke in the desert, eating the sand, hide in the grass” pulls out the stops and goes places pop songs usually don´t.
With it´s naïve, almost nursery rhyme melody “Boat” is impossible not to love, and if that sounds to simple and conventional it ends with slightly less than a minute´s worth of strangeness.

“Put on hold” is an alternate universe New Order, spliced together with something pretty unclassifiable and sung through a telephone answering machine. And it goes on and on like this, song after song.
An album that I like every bit as much now as when I first listened to it in 2008. Witty, quirky, adventurous and unique. There´s very little recent information to be found about the band, and no new music has appeared. Probably yet one of those cases of immensely talented people tiring of a music business increasingly uninterested in originality. If that´s the case it´s too bad, but nobody can take the greatness of this album from them.

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…American Whiskey tasting no 2 is long due.

Old Overlholt
Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, 80 proof (40%).
Made from at least 51 % rye, this type of whiskey was once the most common in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland. Although many brands disappeared after Prohibition, Old Overholt is still in production and has a history going back to 1810, when Abraham Overholt (pictured on the label) came up with his original straight rye recipe. Said to have been the favourite whiskey of both President Abraham Lincoln and legendary Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday, it was later legally sold by prescription during Prohibition, as well as used as the medicinal whiskey of the US Navy in WWII. Now the brand is owned and distilled by the Beam company.

Rye whiskey has its very own character, distinctly different from Bourbon and needs to be enjoyed on its own terms. Although matured for four years, the colour is light gold without any deeper tones. The nose is totally lacking the corn sweetness you´ll find in a Bourbon, and is light with an early hint of wood, followed by the white pepper spiciness that is considered typical of rye whiskey. Somewhere in the middle you will also find a distinct eucalyptus note. Neat in a tasting glass you will get a dryness very different from Bourbon, light bodied with some white pepper and a short, dry finish. In a tumbler with an ice cube its light character is mostly diluted without contributing anything new. All in all I think this is an honest whiskey and a nice representative of its particular style, that seems to have stayed true to its heritage in spite of being produced by one of the largest commercial manufacturers in the US. I will probably have to get at least one more bottle of Old Overholt, if nothing else to try to get hold of Peychaud´s bitters and absinthe to make a Sazerac. Attentive viewers of great series “Treme” might remember a scene involving said cocktail, fictional chef Jeanette Desautel and the face of real life food critic Alan Richman. Great stuff.

George Dickel no 12
George Dickel No 12, Tennessee Sippin´Whisky, 90 proof (45%).
Founded in 1870 in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma, Tennessee, the Dickel distillery went through the usual tribulations during the Prohibition years, finally ending up in the ownership of the Diageo company. While still manufactured in Cascade Hollow using water from Cascade Spring, the bottling takes place elsewhere. Legend has it that George Dickel noticed that whisky made during the winter was better than the ones made in summertime. This led him to what was called the cold chilling process, meaning that the whisky was chilled in order to filter out unwanted oils and fatty acids before mellowing with maple charcoal (the so called Lincoln County Process). Unlike Jack Daniels that lets the whiskey drip through the charcoal, George Dickel steeps it in a charcoal-filled vat before letting it mature in new American oak barrels, claiming to give a more smooth whisky. Actually, Dickel himself felt that his whisky was smooth enough for it to compare favorably to Scottish whisky, thus the different spelling from other American whiskeys.

The design of the bottles are in a simple style creating the feel of an old bottle of whisky that wouldn´t look out of place in Al Swearengen´s saloon in Deadwood. Four years of barrel maturation gives the whisky a pleasant light amber colour. The nose is dominated by a very nice and full maple sugar and honey sweetness that goes on for a long time. Very intense and pure. The taste is equally full and with a characteristic maple sweetness followed by aromatic and complex vanilla and oak tones in the finish. In a tumbler with ice you get a nose with more pronounced vanilla sweetness and a slightly less full taste that reveals some light smokiness in the finish.This is without a doubt a very well made whisky that´s both pleasing and complex, with a well-defined character making it an excellent representative of Tennessee whisky.

George Dickel no 8
George Dickel No 8, Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky, 80 proof (40%).
Another distillate from the same producer. This time made in the sour mash Bourbon tradition, but still with the George Dickel cold chilling and charcoal mellowing method. Amber colour, a sweet corn and maple sugar/honey nose that´s much simpler than the more complex No 12, but still full and satisfying. Definitely lighter in taste than the No 12, but with a pleasing dryness and a finish of new oak. Iced in a tumbler the sweetness is accentuated while sacrificing a lot of the complexity. Definitely enjoyable but less characteristic than the no 12.

…returning to “Drive” makes me get off the fence.

Drive

While writing about Nicolas Winding Refn´s latest movie “Only God Forgives” some time back I decided to watch his 2011 hit “Drive” again to determine if I would like it as much as the critics did. My first viewing left me sort of undecided and now that I´ve finally gotten around to seeing it again I´m not so sure about it´s greatness. This is without a doubt a well-shot movie with scenes of both beauty and repulsion. While the storyline chugs along into it´s inevitable descent into violence and chaos, Ryan Gosling´s main character is surprisingly one-dimensional and flat. His love interest Carey Mulligan is all doe-eyes and innocence, without ever showing something that would explain his attraction.
For me, one single scene made the viewing of this movie worthwhile. The Driver takes Irene and her son Benicio on a ride through a dried-out river bed. There´s a certain visual poetry going on here, and a joyfulness that´s truly heartwarming. The emotional impact of this scene is however crudely contrasted by the both startling and quite hideous violence of the rest of the film.
I find “Drive” to be sort of a version of “Pusher” devoid of feeling. Often beautiful but somehow empty. Come to think of it, not that unusual in contemporary cinematic output. Still seems like a waste of talent though.

…2014 – w 17 Album of the Week is “Lustans lakejer” by Lustans Lakejer.

Lustans lakejer
Ok, now we´re going seriously Swede-nerdy. Formed in 1978 and releasing their eponymously titled debut album in 1981, this group has a special place in Swedish popular music history. At the time their brand of new romantic ideal polarized both critics and listeners, their youth being a special concern. Musically with one foot in British post-punk and the other in the burgeoning synth pop scene , this debut album was a sonically realized affair with a sound sometimes reminiscent of a poppier Magazine. Lyrics chronicling the travails of love and lust far more thematically advanced than would be expected from boys in their teens. Singer Johan Kinde was only 17 when the songs on this album were recorded, something that together with his dandy-like demeanour and the pretty cynical and jaded characters of his songs were fuel for much ridicule. This was of course pop music as fantasy and storytelling, definitely different from the gritty descriptions of reality coming from other contemporary Swedish bands.

I´ve listened to this album regularly ever since its release over 30 years ago, and I still love the sound and feel of it. There´s a certain completeness to it where everything from the artwork to the songs, production and performance fits perfectly together. Being at an impressionable age when first hearing these songs made it very easy to be touched by their sometimes slightly lurid emotionality. Even though the stories of night-club debauchery and beautiful but deceitful women were so obviously fantasies, they were still rendered believable through the youthful intensity that shines through the attempts at ennui. There was a certain courage involved in daring to actually be pretentious, and also an achievement in managing the balance without falling over into the ridiculous.

After this first album the group changed its line-up and musically made a turn into synth pop, later developing a sound similar to the band Japan. With song titles and lyrics heavily borrowing from old movies and books, the music became more emotionally detached and even a bit shallow. In spite of many good songs in their later career, in my opinion they never equalled this album. Sometimes it´s better not to polish off the rough edges.

…2014 – w 16 Album of the Week is “Exploring the axis” by Thin White Rope.

Thin white rope

Allegedly taking their name from William S. Burroughs´ description of semen in “Naked Lunch”, this is one of my favourite bands of the mid-eighties, making five really good albums before folding in the early nineties. Characterized by the distinctive singing voice of singer/songwriter/guitarist Guy Kyser, as well as the melodic interplay by Kyser and fellow guitarist Roger Kunkel, they were sometimes a bit unfairly compared to Television. In my opinion they had a sound very much their own, which they honed and refined throughout their career.

Exploring the axis

Although some of the later efforts (like for example 1990´s “Sack full of silver”) could be claimed to be more developed, I still have a soft spot for their debut. Released in 1985, “Exploring the axis” is a sharp and edgy exploration of dual guitar rock. Opener “Down in the desert” sets the tone with it´s combination of drama and melody, along with the slightly creepy lyrics.

Even though it´s a debut album, the sound of the band is fully formed and Kyser gives evidence of being an accomplished songwriter with a style very much his own. You won´t find lines like these from the song “Lithium” on many contemporary albums.

“I need lithium and you, you make me feel the same
Some reaction in my blood puts bubbles in my brain”

Bying this album upon it´s release, I still remember being quite excited by it at the time. Sometimes slightly abrasive but always melodic, and with lyrics filled with strange and obscure stories. Loved it then and loving it still. Enjoy.

…American Whiskey tasting no 1 is on the schedule.

I must confess to Jack Daniels having a special place in my heart. Not considered much of anything amongst serious single malt drinkers, it´s still the rock ´n´roll whiskey, making it undeniably cool to the twenty-something rock fan that I was when I first came in contact with it. No lover of rock ´n´ roll could have escaped the lure of this easily recognizable brand. It´s very easy to imagine Keith Richards in front of a microphone with his guitar, a bottle of Jack dangling from one hand and a cigarette in the other.

I´ve never used it for mixing cocktails or in Jack ´n´Coke or something like that, instead always enjoying it in a tumbler with a single ice cube. Something of a guilty pleasure, you could say, just like the old Eurythmics albums I keep stacked in the back of my vinyl LP collection. Maybe not that hip, but still definitely enjoyable.

Jack Daniels

Jack Daniels Old No.7 Brand, 80 proof (40%).
The Jack Daniels distillery was established in 1866, making it the oldest in America and claiming to still make it´s famous Old No.7 Brand precisely as it´s always been done. A Tennessee whiskey crafted from cool, iron-free water from their own spring, with a sour mash based on corn with an addition of rye and malted barley, mellowed by dripping through 10 feet of maple charcoal before maturing in barrels of new white oak, made and charred at the distillery. No specified time of barrel maturation is said to be needed, “it´s ready when it´s ready”. Whiskey from different barrels are blended to give a consistent taste and quality.

So, how does it taste? Let me begin by saying that this is not a very demanding whiskey to drink. A nice, fairly light colour with a nose that´s also on the light side. Sweet and with notes of caramel and vanilla, with just the slightest hint of charcoal smoke. A second sniff gives you pretty strong banana notes. Straight, in a tasting glass, you get a very smooth and mellow drink, with some fresh oak and distinct caramel and vanilla notes, followed by a finish dominated by sweetness. In a tumbler with an ice cube the sweetness is more marked and some fruitiness appears. This description might give the faulty impression that Jack Daniels is an unremarkable drink, which is not my opinion at all. I really like this whiskey and while it´s quite light and pleasing from the first sip, it still holds a certain measure of complexity. Of course, it can´t be compared to a 25 year old Highland Park, but that´s not really what it´s about is it? I would say that it´s perfectly possible for the same person to enjoy both the Allman Brothers Band and Radiohead´s latest.

Elijah Craig

Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 12 years old, 94 proof (47%).
Produced by the large Heaven Hill distillery, this straight Bourbon was named after the Reverend Elijah Craig (1738 – 1808), who has been claimed to be the first to make true Kentucky Bourbon, after storing his whiskey in barrels that had been accidentally charred in a fire. Be that as it may, you don´t have to believe this story to try the whiskey. It is marketed as a small batch Bourbon, coming from a dump of not more than 100 barrels. If that´s really to be considered small batch can of course be discussed, but let´s not be overly elitist here.

In this day and age where packaging and design is becoming more and more important, Elijah Craig is either an anti-statement or just plain old fashioned. Everything about this bottle looks cheap and uninteresting, not that different from the generic rum I once bought back in the eighties in a Prague government store. That said, drinking the contents of the bottle will make you happier than looking at it. Here we have a whiskey with the light amber colour that could be expected from 12 years of barrel maturation (I haven´t found any information about the presence or absence of artificial colourings, so let´s believe in a natural process for the time being). The nose carries a strong and full sweetness with no sharpness of alcohol whatsoever, along with vanilla and banana toffee. Tasting it straight reveals more of the sweetness and a certain creaminess in the medium long finish. Toasted oak is evident, combined with a hint of vanilla. Iced in a tumbler the oak is played down and a discrete aniseed or liquorice tone develops. Not sure that ice really improves on this whiskey, unlike what I´ve found during the years for Jack Daniels. There is a definite Bourbon character to this brew that I enjoy, even though the likes of Woodford and Blanton´s reach much higher in that respect. Not sure I´m going to buy this again, but let´s see.

Rebel reserve

Rebel Reserve, Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 90,6 proof (45,3%).
William Larue Weller (1825 – 1899) initiated the use of wheat instead of rye in the mashbill of Bourbon whiskey, which of course had to contain at least 51% corn. Now several other types of wheated Bourbon exists, and the WLW brand has been sold to the Sazerac Company. Rebel Yell and it´s sister whiskey Rebel Reserve is currently produced by the Heaven Hill distillery. Claiming to be hand-crafted in small batches my particular bottle is number 53 549 from batch 1 065. Seems like industrial production trying to mimic artisanal. Wheated Bourbon definitely has a different character compared to the others, whether you like it or not is a different story. An earlier tasting of Rebel Yell that I did found it to be entirely unremarkable. Rebel Reserve however is marketed as the more exclusive alternative, with more bells and whistles. It shows a light amber colour, probably consistent with its undisclosed time of barrel maturation. The nose carries a distinct alcohol sharpness that almost completely displaces tones of oak and caramel. Tasting it straight will show you a pretty decent wheat character, but not so much else. Unfortunately this whiskey is fairly one-dimensional and severely lacking in complexity. The finish is short and unsatisfying and not something that will get you excited. Tasting it in a tumbler with an ice cube doesn´t really change anything. There is a definite lack of character here that can´t be overlooked. Not something that I´m going to return to.

…2014 – w 15 Album of the Week is “Hit Parade” by The Wedding Present.

Through their by now pretty long career, The Wedding Present has been interesting to follow. Formed in Leeds in 1985 the band has more or less been the vehicle for singer/guitarist/songwriter David Gedge, and has gone through several incarnations with somewhat different styles. The beginning as indie-wonders with songs propelled by the frantic guitar work of Gedge as well as his idiosyncratic singing has given way to a more reflective and melodic side in later years. I really loved the early years of indie-pop classics lyrically covering the three L´s – love, lust and loss. Excellent example below.

In 1992 the band decided to release a 7″-single every month during a whole year, eventually resulting in 12 consecutive top 30 singles. As a way to economize the A-sides were all original compositions while the B-sides were covers, interestingly chosen. All the songs were later collected on the CD-version “Hit Parade”. While technically being a CD-double, I´m going to treat it as a regular album.

It all begins with the addictive melody of “Blue Eyes”, beautifully understated and followed by the Go-Betweens classic “Cattle and cane” in a version true to the original. “Go-go dancer” shows the propulsive side of the band with a dirty, feedback-filled ending. The B-side cover is Neil Young´s “Don´t cry no tears”, from the “Zuma”-album, soundwise tapping into the link between Young and Dinosaur Jr.
“Three” slows things down with some really nice guitar-playing accompanying Gedge´s pledge for the merits of a threesome. The flip-side goes deep into pop-land with Altered Images´ “Think that it might”, which in the Weddoes version becomes heavier and more melancholic.

“Silver shorts” sees the protagonist agonising about a past relationship while in bed with the subject of the next one. This song is just flowing, with nice dynamics and a finish of great rhythm guitar. “Falling” by Julee Cruise (known from legendary TV-series “Twin Peaks”) is done in an atmospheric version considerably harder than the original.
“Come play with me” adds drama, with break-up lyrics set to music both intense and melodically intricate . Monkees cover “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is done with great love and threatens to overshadow the rather too cheery original. “California” is classic Wedding Present with an undulating melody driven by accoustic guitars, followed by “Let´s make some plans” by Scottish C86-indie band Close Lobsters in a much dirtier version, while still keeping the lightness of the original.

The bass-driven “Flying saucer” is yet one of Gedge´s ecstatic melodies ending in a whirl of guitar turbulence. “Rocket”, taken from British glam rockers Mud, is a simple Elvis-type stomper not that far from the original, which is probably exactly what the band wanted.
“Boing!” doesn´t really do anything that the other songs hasn´t already done, and is offset by the sheer craziness of The Wedding Present doing a cover of “Theme from Shaft” – something that they do surprisingly well. A harder version of early Orange Juice could have sounded like this. “Loveslave” goes all out with the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic and Steve Albini guitars. This outburst is followed by one of the most bizarre covers ever, of Bowie´s “Chant of the ever circling skeletal family”. If you´re aiming for a Bowie cover, this is hardly what you would expect. “Sticky” is the sound of a relationship that´s soured enough to make even the sight of the former lover sickening. Malcolm McLaren-created band Bow Wow Wow was a pretty polarizing experience in their time and I can´t say that I´ve ever liked their hit “Go wild in the country”. It being done by the Weddoes doesn´t really change that much. “The Queen of outer space” namechecks the old Zsa Zsa Gabor Movie from the fifties, and has a certain degree of nonsensical charm that carries on into the B-side cover of Barry Gray´s theme for British 70´s sci-fi TV-series “UFO”.

For the last single of “Hit Parade” we´ve reached December which usually means Christmas songs, of which there are not that many good ones. “No Christmas” chugs along without making too much waves, and the album ends on a cheesy note with the Elton John cover “Step into Christmas”.

In many ways this collection of songs is a brilliant example of the genius of The Wedding Present. Despite sharing a similar format and sound, there´s all kinds of subtleties buried in both the lyrics and the songwriting here. David Gedge has through the years been very consistent in the exploration of his both limited and boundless themes. I think many of us would agree – apart from love, what is there that really means anything?