Monthly Archives: December 2014

…Chicago is a seriously awesome gourmet city.

Even though our October trip to Chicago was more business than pleasure, there was still time to enjoy a little of what was on offer. This being our first visit, I must confess to immediately liking it. Nice people, relaxed atmosphere and with a character different from the other American cities I´ve visited. The view from our hotel room was of Grant Park (famous from the Democratic National Convent riots of 1968), and beyond that Lake Michigan spreading out like an ocean. And then there was the restaurants. 25 Michelin starred establishments and a total of 31 stars in 2014. Not bad.

L2O
L2OThe first one sampled was seafood restaurant L2O  (meaning lake to ocean), opened in 2008. Current chef Matthew Kirkley has been running the place since 2011. Receiving 3 Michelin stars in 2010 it has now settled for 2 this year.

The dining room felt both modern and tasteful, with an extremely friendly and attentive staff. Their spectacular 14 course menu with wine pairings can be seen here, and was in every respect a wonderful experience. Fresh and original ingredients cooked to perfection, with superb and innovative blends of tastes. And for those interested in aesthetics I must say that some of the courses were amongst the most beautiful I´ve seen. Check out their webpage if you don´t believe me.

After the meal we were treated to a full tour of the premises, including the kitchen, by one of the staff. While not requested it was still very much enjoyed as an extra bonus. Regrettably it seems like this great place is closing at the end of 2014, to give way for a more affordable restaurant. Too bad in my opinion, but I´m still glad I got to try it in its prime.

Alinea

AlineaReceiving 3 Michelin stars ever since the Michelin Guide started covering Chicago, Alinea as well as chef Grant Achatz are legendary. This year Restaurant Magazine´s nr 9 in the list of the world´s best restaurants. Of course a place that needed to be visited during our stay.

Let´s begin with a few words on their booking policy. You can´t make traditional reservations at Alinea, instead you have to buy tickets from their website giving you the right to enjoy their tasting menu on a certain night. The tickets are released some weeks in advance and you need to follow them on facebook or twitter to know when. I logged in to buy my ticket as soon as I got notice of them being available for the time period we were going to be in Chicago, and managed to get a Sunday evening 9.30 p.m. spot. That probably says something of the popularity of this place.

Getting there by cab the driver actually missed the pretty unassuming entrance, and we had to double back to find it. Finally at the right place, we opened the door and entered into the universe of Alinea, and what a trip it was. The experience starts as soon as you set foot in the restaurant, and continues for a number of enchanting hours. The night´s menu can be seen here , but mere words fail to describe this level of culinary expertise. Here we have a world class chef who not only masters all the most advanced techniques of molecular gastronomy, but also excels at innovation in combining ingredients and tastes, as well as having a keen sense of the aesthetic.

A night at Alinea is more like a performance than a meal, with dishes wonderful on the palate and beautiful to the eye. Périgord truffle and Parmesan served on a concrete slab with balsamic vinegar from a spray can as graffiti. Helium-filled edible balloons made of apple toffee. A dessert literally painted on the tablecloth, like an alimentary Jackson Pollock. The courses at this restaurant certainly has a high wow-factor, while still managing the balance between inventiveness and gimmick.

All in all a wonderful evening with everything perfectly executed. This is absolutely a place not to be missed when visiting Chicago. Two months on, I´ve already started longing to go there again.

…2014 w 52 – Album of the week is “Synthetica” by Metric.

The 00´s has been a fabulous time for Canadian indie music giving rise to heaps of great bands, often interacting and collaborating with each other in numerous projects. Broken Social Scene is perhaps the best example, a sprawling musical collective that at one time or other has incorporated almost the entire Canadian indie music royalty – people like Leslie Feist, Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell of Stars, as well as Metric founding members Emily Haines and James Shaw.

Haines and ShawFormed in 1998 by Haines and Shaw, after the latter´s return to Toronto following a three year classical music education at Juilliard, this band has carved out a place for themselves as melodically intrinsic pop mavericks. First effort ”Grow up and blow away” had a difficult gestation, initial recordings done in London 2000, finished in the US and not officially released until 2007. Dominated by piano and drum machines the album showed two already accomplished musicians and songwriters, and while the melodies were there the effortless flow of later works were not.

Old world undergroundActual debut “Old world underground, where are you now?” (2003) was recorded by a band augmented by new members Joshua Winstead and Joules Scott-Key on bass and drums respectively. The album saw Metric develop into a band proper instead of a solo vehicle for Haines and Shaw, upping the ante both concerning songwriting and playing. Interesting but not fantastic, this is still a work showing much promise, and containing several really good songs. As such it accomplished the goal of increasing the interest for this group which would swiftly move on to greater things.

 

Live it out

2005´s “Live it out” was my introduction to the group, and their first absolutely flawless album. Heavier on guitars than previous output and with tremendously developed songwriting. Here Emily Haines´ vocals finally reach the sensual heights only hinted at on earlier recordings. This collection of tracks has everything you could possibly wish for from a pop record. No matter how much work you´ve put into making a song, the trick of the best ones is to sound totally effortless, something this album has in spades. In addition, only an intelligent frontwoman pretty sure of herself would go into the minefield of playing with her femininity in a video like this one.

 

 

Fantasies“Fantasies” (2009) continued in a guitar-driven direction further honing the crafting of songs, “Sick muse” not only being a highlight of the band but also of the year. This is everything that a pop song should be. Attitude, melodic flow, slick arrangement and singing that´s sexy as hell. At the time probably their most coherent and realized album, with songs of incredibly high quality. In every way a band achieving mastery of their expression and a rare joy for the listener. A record still on pretty heavy rotation on my CD-player, for obvious reasons.

 

Synthetica

 

“Synthetica” released in 2012 begins with the words “I´m just as fucked up as they say, I can´t fake the daytime, I found an entrance to escape into the dark”, in opening song “Artificial nocturne”. Dominated by keyboards this sets the tone and is both a return to origins and a new direction with a larger and sort of complete sound. According to leading lady Haines an album “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection”.

“Youth without youth” blends synthpop with glam rock drums and edgy guitars into a sparkling whole, while “Speed the collapse” could be likened to poppy darkwave. “Breathing underwater” shimmers and builds towards a large and untypically epic chorus. Ballad “Dreams so real” is powered by deep and distorted synths, offset by Haines´ sensual voice. A simple, throbbing rhythm drives “Lost Kitten” which is saved from tedium by a floating chorus. “The void” is a modern take on 80´s synth pop, giving way to title song “Synthetica”. Absolutely one of the stand-out tracks, elegantly unifying the band´s previous guitar dominated sound with these new electronic influences, as well as being a great example of their songwriting powers. Why doesn´t all bands sound like this?

“Clone” echoes so much of the music I listened to in the late 80´s, sweet but not that remarkable. Quite the opposite could be said of “The Wanderlust” which goes off into several beautiful and exciting directions at once, while sporting a surprise appearance by the late Lou Reed. A fine build-up for closer “Nothing but time” which finishes the album in style – “I got nothing but time so the future is mine”. Majestic and melodic.

This collection of songs certainly shows a change in sound for Metric, and it will be very interesting to see what road they choose to go down in the future. Let´s just hope that they´ll drop the mirror-image printing idea. Must have seemed cool at the time but quickly becomes tedious. That said, still one of my favourite bands who can always restore my faith in the fun of pop music when everything seems grey and derivative.

…2014 w 51 – Album of the week is “Elite” by Fireside.

FiresideAppearing in the early nineties in the parts of northern Sweden where I grew up, this is a band unlike any other. Initially part of a local hardcore scene and releasing a few EP´s followed by debut album “Fantastic Four”, the group soon developed through follow-up “Do not tailgate” into the full-on assault of “Uomini d´onore”, blending the intense but pretty unsophisticated beginnings with a remarkable melodic maturity. By now disappointed with the rigours of international touring, Fireside devoted the remainder of an artistically accomplished career to Europe and their native Sweden.

EliteNext album “Elite”, released in 2000, saw the band departing in much more experimental directions, severely polarizing their old fanbase. The dissatisfaction with the record going as far as creating websites devoted to “Fireside before Elite”. However, as most of us know, being conservative and protectionist has never advanced rock music into new territories. In addition, fans can´t really expect to determine the road next travelled by their favourites.

Released as “collected and compiled music from Fireside” this record was vastly different from what the group had done before. In some ways a concept album, according to the band produced “pre collapse”, with a text on the back cover as follows – “At this point in time money still ruled the world. Capitalistic thoughts were still wide spread. From the sky filled with the fumes of a billionaire´s cigar to the deepest abyss drenched in nuclear waste. A rich kid was a happy kid. Oh..dirty, filthy times. Let this be a reminder.”

With its snippets of dialogue in French followed by melodic acoustic guitars, “Elevator action” is a most unusual opening song, establishing the dreamy and melancholy air of the album as well as previewing the later career of singer/guitarist Kristoffer Åström. More uptempo “Fernandez must die” connects with the band´s earlier sound while showing a complexity not previously present in their output. After noisily morphing into next song “Thing on a spring”, the record continues to surprise with a supremely arranged depiction of love lost without any aftertaste of sentimentality. The old German well-wishing phrase “Hals und beinbruch” gives name to a kaleidoscopic piece chronicling romance refracted through drunken abandon. “Desolator” swiftly bounces back to the sound of bygone times where the band excelled in melodic hardcore, using past skills to craft a hard-hitting song of expectation and regret.

The 11+ minutes of “Elite” could perhaps be understandable as a source of some of the anger directed at the band, a symbol of the fan-perceived indulgence of the group, if it wasn´t so obviously a progressive step forward and so immersed in beauty. Why not let ideas occupy space and take their time to develop? What´s to be lost by following a group of talented musicians stepping out of their comfort zones?

“The last V8” again showcases Kristoffer Åström, later creating a solo career infused with his particular talent. “Cisco heat” is in some respects a detour into the traditional Fireside sound coloured by the new direction of the band, while closing song “Take a down”again goes into Åström-land, coloured by the magnificent mandolin of Jari Haapalainen.

After this career highlight the group released one additional album with 2003´s “Get shot”, in it´s own right a blend of everything that´s ever been great about this band. Since then, silence. Yet a proof that all good things eventually comes to an end.