Monthly Archives: February 2015

…2015 w 9 – Album of the week is “My Houdini” by Tactics.

TacticsLet´s continue in Australia with a group of totally uncompromising musicians. Tactics were formed in Canberra in 1977 and relocated to Sydney in 1978. Probably the most willfully obscure band of their generation, they found a distinct and clear voice through the singular mind of founding and only consistent member David Studdert. Very few rock musicians can boast a career spanning several critically noted albums of absolutely unique and original material, as well as a PhD in Sociology (Conceptualising Community, 2005). The combination of a stubborn refusal to conform to norms of contemporary rock clichés and a fierce will to be different created a truly spectacular body of work. That said, the fact that they were largely ignored by the music industry really doesn´t matter.

During their active years Tactics released four original albums, as well as a live one and a singles compilation. None of these were commercially successful and today can only be found second hand. Spotify has nothing, regrettably revealing the sometime lack of history of the download generation.

My own exposure to this band started with a glowing review of their debut “My Houdini” (1980) in a British music journal . Despite much searching the album proved unavailable in Sweden at the time, but remained at the back of my mind for a long time until I found their single “Committee of love” in a record store bargain bin. Totally blown away I set out to explore the body of work that this band had accomplished, through a set of later released CD-compilations. “The sound of the sound vol 1 & 2” collected all the group´s studio albums as well as rarities and selected live stuff. In addition to uniquely great music you get the most fascinating booklets ever made for a career spanning retrospective.

My Houdini“My Houdini” is in my opinion one of the greatest debut albums ever made. Despite its difficult gestation nothing can disguise the quality and vision of the songwriting and playing on display. Feverish, frantic guitars and rhythms coupled by shrill vocals with lyrics chronicling the experience of settlers discovering the plight of the subdued indigenous population. In so many ways a remarkable album of mature songs. While the lyrical content explored the murky waters of colonialist angst, the music went way further into an antipodean take on post-modern rock. Studdert allowed nothing that sounded like anything else to creep into his music. Isolated and insular for sure, frenetic and focused definitely, lyrical and literate unmistakably. Although largely lost in pop music history, do what you have to do to listen to these dispatches from the buried country.

…moonshine can be illuminating – American whiskey tasting nr 9.

Here we have a segment of the American whiskey output that instead of detailed mash bills and creative aging options relies on simplicity. In many cases just the raw stuff straight out of the still. Currently surprisingly popular in some sort of bid for returning to the basics together with manageable complexity. Showcasing just the spirits, with their different ingredients and distillation methods, without needing to care about the enless possibilities of cooperage.

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, 100 proof (50%).

Ole SmokeyStarted in Gatlinburg in 2010, The Ole Smoky distillery (taking its name from the Smoky Mountains) became the fourth one operating in Tennessee (the others being Jack Daniel´s, George Dickel and Benjamin Prichard´s). Looking at their webpage you get the impression of something like a theme park distillery, which might or might not be considered good. The company produces a fairly large variety of clear and flavoured spirits, of which only the original moonshine is available in Sweden.

Made from a mashbill consisting of 80% corn, with the remaining 20% undisclosed, and of course bottled without any aging. True to form delivered in a Mason jar which makes it almost impossible to pour into a glass without making a mess. The producers recommend drinking straight from the jar. Since it´s high proof alcohol this might actually be considered hygienic even in a slightly larger group of people, even though there´s a certain ick-factor there.

Crystal clear without visible impurities. A simple nose characterized by sweet corn on the cob with butter. Neat in a tasting glass its all corn sweetness beginning with butter-flavoured popcorn and ending with the type of sugar cane sweetness that you´ll find in white rum. The middle carries a certain alcohol kick due to the 100 proof strength. Diluting and chilling with ice does absolutely nothing for this moonshine.

I must confess to liking this particular brew. There´s a simplicity here that´s very difficult not to embrace, and sipping Ole Smoky Moonshine straight from the jar feels pretty cool. The distillery profile, with loads of different varieties of fruit-flavoured moonshine, is not the type I usually gravitate towards. Nevertheless, even those of us dedicated to fancy gourmet restaurants can sometimes derive pleasure from a McDonalds hamburger.

Roughstock Montana Sweet Corn Whiskey, 100 proof (50%).

Roughstock Montana Sweet CornMade by the Roughstock Company this corn whiskey consists of 100% yellow corn double distilled in copper pots to 100 proof. Locally produced yellow corn mixed with pure mountain water, couldn´t be much simpler.

Brightly clear. A nose consisting mostly of sweet buttery corn. Neat in a tasting glass you get a clean, crisp taste of sweet corn with a finishing alcohol kick. Very simple but still enjoyable. I think I´m just going to have to experiment a little with this in cocktails.

Roughstock Montana Spring Wheat Whiskey, 90 proof (45%)

Roughstock Montana Spring WheatWheat whiskey is definitely not the most common whiskey-type on the market, but here we have a brand new one. Maybe the most common uses for wheat in whiskey production is the so called wheated bourbons, where wheat is an ingredient instead of the more usual rye. You need a mashbill of at least 51% wheat to be able to call the distillate wheat whiskey.

This drink is made from 100% locally produced wheat of a high-protein bread making variety called Prairie Gold. After fermentation it´s double distilled in a copper pot still. Primary aging is done in used malt barrels, followed by a few months in heavily toasted French oak.

Light yellow straw colour. The nose has a softness to it, with some vanilla and honey. Neat in a tasting glass you get a soft distillate with mild caramel ending with discrete spicyness. Altogether very softspoken and delicate. Interesting and with a unique but slightly weak character. Not something that´s going to become a favourite, though.

…2015 w 8 – Album of the week is “Tales of the unexpected” by The Lighthouse Keepers.

Lighthouse keepersThe early eighties was a formidable time for Australian rock music and loads of fantastic bands came to prominence during these years. While many were creatively outstanding only a few reached commercial success. This great band was one of those who didn´t. Not that it matters much when they were able to write such great songs.

Formed in Sydney in 1981, their country-tinged pop went against the grain in a city where the indie music scene were heavily influenced by The Stooges. First single “Gargoyle” wasn´t released until 1983, and cut through the noise of contemporary Sydney bands with chiming guitars, delicious melodies and a great vocal performance. Just remember, music videos still were very much in their infancy at the time.

Next release, the EP “The Exploding Lighthouse Keepers”, expanded the band´s sound with instruments like brass and showed guitarist/vocalist Greg Appel as an already accomplished songwriter. Sounds surprisingly good even today, despite being recorded mostly live in the studio.

Tales of the unexpectedDebut record “Tales of the unexpected” (1984) turned out to be the band´s only original album,  followed by the compilation “Imploding” (1986) containing mostly early material, released around the time the group disbanded. “Tales” continued the band´s jangling guitar sound coupled with the very special vocals of Juliet Ward, over a diverse set of 14 songs that´s quite uplifting despite frequently leaning towards the melancholy. Even though it´s a slightly uneven album, with some ups and downs in the songwriting, there´s certainly greatness to be found here. In their best moments when everything comes together, both the music and the vocals has a certain fragility that´s immensely beautiful and enjoyable. Like a soap bubble in midair only needing a light poke to disintegrate.

The album is long deleted but can be found second hand on sites like Discogs. There´s two CD compilations around, “Lip Snipe Groin” and “Ode to nothing”, also not that easy to get hold of. The easiest way of listening to these wonderful songs is probably Spotify.

…2015 w 7 – Album of the week is “Bonk” by Big Pig.

Big PigLet´s leave my native Sweden for a while and go to one of my other favourite musical countries – Australia. Doubtlessly one of the most strange bands in pop history, this group was formed in London by Australian musicians and had a career spanning the years 1985 -91. After releasing a few singles this their first album appeared in 1988. With a most unusual line-up of seven people, of which five sang, three played drums, two percussion and one did keyboards and harmonica respectively. It´s easy to understand that their sound was quite different, letting primarily harmonica take the place usually reserved for guitars.

BonkTheir music was pretty hard to classify but could perhaps be called a mix of funk, soul, pop and harmonica-driven rock, performed by a bunch of hyperactive-sounding musicians banging on everything in sight. I remember being quite taken by their very original sound when the first 12” singles appeared. Intricate drumming and percussion unlike anything I´d heard before coupled with soulful singing and splashes of harmonica and keyboards, everything carefully orchestrated and tastefully produced. Sort of like the soul/funk of the future. Melodic, innovative, rhytmically complex and with a restless drive pushing the music forward. Despite being quite successful in their home country of Australia, the band was largely neglected in my parts of the world.

A second album was released in 1990 but didn´t impress me very much Shortly after the group split up and has to my knowledge not been heard of again. A pity, but the music that they made during their years as a band can still be accessed. Check out Spotify.

…let´s get deeper into the rye – American whiskey tasting nr 8.

High West Rendezvous Rye, 92 proof (46%)

High west rendezvous ryeThe Utah distillery previously mentioned here uses the time needed for their own distillates to mature to produce blends of other whiskies. This one combines a 16 year old straight rye with a mash bill containing 80% rye, 10% corn and 10% barley with a 6 year old distillate of 95% rye and 5% barley. Non chill filtered and sold in numbered batches and bottles.

Glowing amber colour. Rich nose with big rye spice, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a lot of spice, changing into caramel after the initial heat and finishing with discrete oak notes before a long spicy ending. In a tumbler with ice the pepper dominates with a short caramel finish.

The whiskey comes in the usual High West bottles, tall and stylish with embossed glass and wood/cork stopper. A very nice whiskey expertly combining it´s two quite different ingredients. I would very keen to lay my hands on another bottle.

High West Double Rye!, 92 proof (46%)

High west double ryeLike the above also a blend of an older and a younger rye. The first one a 16 year old distillate with a mash bill of 53% rye and 37% corn, and the second 2 years old with 95% rye and 5% barley.

Golden amber colour. A very curious nose for a rye, with unexpected almost gin-like aromas and mint, followed by passing caramel and a hint of oak in the finish. Neat in a tasting glass the gin aromatics persist in company with spiciness, followed by some sweetness before a quite long finish where sugar and white pepper competes to the end. In a tumbler with ice nothing much happens, with the gin botanicals coexisting with rye spice.

Quite an interesting drink with a really unique character. However, if it´s a rye you´re looking for I would go for the Rendezvous Rye instead.

Rittenhouse Straight Rye, 100 proof (50%)

Rittenhouse ryeHere we have a bottle illustrating some of the charmingly interesting and confusingly irritating facets of American whiskey. A brand owned by Heaven Hill distilleries and despite being made in Kentucky carrying on the Pennsylvania style of American rye. This particular type of whiskey is sometimes called Monongahela rye, as a homage to it´s old origins along the Monongahela river.

The bottle that I´ve been sampling is of what is called the DSP-KY-354 variety, which holds a story in it´s own. DSP stands for Distilled Spirits Plant number, and is a system for identifying distilleries. In this case it´s a plant owned by the Brown-Forman company (known for amongst other things Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve). The reason for this being a 1996 fire in the Bardstown distillery that used to make Rittenhouse, necessitating Heaven Hill to make a deal with someone else to distill this product. After acquiring and revamping the Bernheim distillery, production of Rittenhouse rye was again in the hands of Heaven Hill, now labeled DSP-KY-1. Getting confused? Well, this type of stories are common in the American whiskey business.

To make it even more complicated, Rittenhouse rye exists in two distinct expressions, an 80 proof one and this bottled in bond 100 proof whiskey. The so called Bottled-in Bond Act of 1897 was a way of creating a quality standard for American whiskey.  To achieve this classification the spirits needed to be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season, aged for at least four years under U.S government supervision in a federally bonded warehouse and bottled at 100 proof, identifying both the distillery and the bottling site on the label. So, after all this background let´s get on with the tasting.

Deep amber colour. A nose with strong tones of chocolate fudge being overtaken by a deep and satisfying rye spiciness with a continuing backdrop of sweetness. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a distinctive dryness overlying a discrete sweetness, with an alcohol kick in the middle giving way to fairly long rye notes. In a tumbler with ice the chocolate nose leaps at you, also very present in the taste which increases in sweetness as the fire decreases.

Sold in a no-frills standard bottle with a label that from today´s perspective is quite hideous. However, this design has another agenda and shouldn´t really be compared to contemporary craft whiskies that´s using all possible tricks to make an impression in an ever expanding field.

To sum it up a very honest rye in the original Pennsylvania style, which is nice as a baseline for comparing what´s being done with rye whiskey today. It would also be very nice to try it along with another classic like Old Overholt.

Copper Fox Rye, 90 proof (45%)

Copper Fox ryeIn Copper Fox we have a truly artisanal distillery, started in 2000 by Rick Wasmund after a six-month internship at Islay´s Bowmore. Presently making a single malt whiskey, this rye and a gin, as well as offering a barrel kit making it possible to age one of their whiskies to your own personal preferences.  The grains used are produced specially for Copper Fox and as the only distillery in the US they do all of their malting.

One of the unique steps in the making of this whiskey is the drying of the malt in the presence of apple and cherrywood smoke. Using a mash bill of 2/3 rye and 1/3 hand malted barley it´s double distilled in small batch copper pots, after which the distillate is matured in used bourbon barrels together with oak and applewood chips. Final maturing is done after transferring the whiskey to another used bourbon barrel, with a total aging of 12 months. The distillate doesn´t undergo chill filtering before being bottled by hand.

Showing a rich amber colour without any visible impurities. A fairly complex and interesting nose, containing the usual rye spices overlayed with light smoke notes similar to what I´m used to when barbecuing with cherry wood. There´s also citrus, nutmeg, oak and more cherry. Neat in a tasting glass you get a drink without any of the astringent properties of the earlier tasted whiskies. There´s rye spiciness together with fruit and delicate smoke, mixed together into a pretty complex blend with sweetness giving way to a medium long spicy finish. Putting it in a tumbler with ice all but ruins the experience, merely diluting what´s in essence a unique and interesting whiskey.

The bottle is old school but somehow stylish in its simplicity, with its plastic screw top and hand-dipped wax coating. It´s surprising to get that degree of complexity from something that´s only been in barrels for a year, and it´s interesting to see that the wood chip techniques used for a long time in winemaking has now reached the whiskey industry. I´m going to leave the question of whether this development is good or bad unanswered, and can´t help wondering what this would have tasted like if it would have undergone a traditional many years long maturing process instead.

…2015 w 06 – Album of the week is “Ritual” by Garbochock.

With a fairly extensive record collection like mine, listening to music is nowadays more or less turning into a game of association. Something gets you going and connects to other stuff in a chain of thought sometimes not easily understood but always with some logic to it. After previous weeks of listening to Swedish classics as Ebba Grön, Imperiet and Thåström, the leap to Garbochock isn´t a big one.

GarbochockWhile not a very well-known group this is still one of the most artistically accomplished and exciting acts in all of Swedish musical history. Formed in Malmö 1979 by frontman Stry Terrarie, from the remains of earlier band Besökarna, the short-lived group only released one album and a single before disbanding. These two releases however stands the test of time as amongst the best and most original rock records ever made in Sweden, or anywhere else for that matter. Peerless while they were active and peerless now.

GarbochockDebut album “Ritual”, released on vinyl in 1980, is one of my all time desert island favourites and timeless in its brilliance. The 35 years gone since its appearance has not diminished the visceral power of this collection of songs. Although Anna Gustavsson´s organ made some draw parallells to The Doors, this music is distinctively original and not really comparable to anything else. Stry´s idiosynchratic singing combined with the guitar genius of Mikael Westergren and sweeping organ figures blends into a totally unique whole. This record sounded like the music of the future when it was released and strangely enough still does.

This is one of those rare records where every track is a classic contributing to the overall feel of the album. From the aggression of “Malmö City” to the sweeping synth landscapes of “Fusion 1999”. The songwriting of Stry Terrarie is absolutely flawless and creatively in a league of its own. Nobody was really doing anything like this at the time. The guitar playing of Mikael Westergren also deserves special mention. Without ever reaching any fame to speak of this is one of the most innovative guitarists of all time. Just listen to his work on previously mentioned “Malmö City”, as well as the brilliant solos on “Ritual” and “Repulsiv”.

After releasing a single with a slightly poppier sound, “Invasion” (1980), the band split up, members going into different new bands. Stry to Ebba Grön and Imperiet, before forming Babylon Blues together with Mikael Westergren in 1984. Westergren and drummer Bengt Liljegren serving a stint in legendary band Underjordiska Lyxorkestern 1981- 82. All of them groups either previously mentioned on this blog or deserving to be so in the future. Swedish rock music was never as exciting as during those years.

The vinyl version of “Ritual” has been unavailable from the record company for many years, but can be found second hand on the internet. A CD-version including two extra tracks was released in 2001, now also seemingly hard to get. The good news is that it´s available on Spotify. So, there´s no excuse. Switch on your laptop, iPad or smartphone and listen. Prepare to be blown away.

 

…rye is in – American whiskey tasting no 7.

Grand Traverse Straight Rye WhiskeyGrand Traverse Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey, 90 proof (45%)

Produced by the Grand Traverse distillery, based in Traverse City, Michigan since 2008. A small batch craft distillery manufacturing this whiskey from locally produced grain which is triple distilled in a copper pot still, with a mash bill of 60% rye and 40% corn. 2 years of storage in new American oak barrels allows the straight rye label in its name.  Apart from this spirit the distillery also makes the rye below, a white dog, a bourbon as well as something called Cherry Whiskey (which I´m not entirely sure if it sounds like a good idea). On their product list is also a rum, a gin and a series of vodkas. There´s strangely enough no mention of this rye in the product presentations on their webpage.

Amber colour and with a nose beginning on the fruity side, with some hints of caramel and vanilla, ending with the typical rye pepper spiciness. Neat in a tasting glass it has a fiery start with a slightly disappointing short middle and an equally short spicy finish. In a tumbler with ice the white pepper multiplies and deepens somewhat.

Sold in an Absolut Vodka-like bottle with a plastic/cork stopper and a not that exciting label designed to give an impression of old tradition. Apparently both the bottle size and the label had to be changed before exporting it to Sweden. All in all a nice but not spectacular rye, and not something I´m likely to return to.

Grand Traverse Ole George WhiskeyGrand Traverse Distillery Ole George Whiskey, 93 proof (46,5%)

From the same distillery we get another straight rye, this time with a 100% rye mashbill. Double distilled and bottled straight from the barrel without any chill filtering. Rye whiskey being the dominant American whiskey before prohibition, these producers are doing a good job of reacquainting aficionados with the origins.

Compared to the straight rye above this one has a nose more dry and spicy, yet aromatic and with more complexity. Neat in a tasting glass it´s pretty smooth, with well defined pepper and spice keeping through a medium long finish that also has a hint of smokiness. In a tumbler with ice the smoothness is accentuated, also creating a fleeting sweetness without actually diminishing the complexity.

Packaging is very similar to what I´ve described above, showing that we shouldn´t judge a book by its cover. Feels a bit more special and is something that might actually get a return match.

Roughstock Montana Straight RyeRoughstock Montana Straight Rye Whiskey, 90 proof (45%)

Manufactured by Roughstock distilleries of Montana this is a product of the first legal distillery in the state of Montana in over 100 years. Apart from its rye this small batch distillery also makes two malt whiskies, as well as a spring wheat and sweet corn whiskey that will be reviewed later. Locally produced grains are matched with clear spring water and double distilled in copper still pots, followed by aging in American oak and bottling without chill filtration. When it comes to delivering a 100% rye mash bill it looks like you´ll have to rely on the artisanal distilleries like Roughstock and the earlier mentioned Grand Traverse.

The colour is a pleasant amber and we get a full nose dominated by toffee, treacle, cinnamon and spice, with a nice dry character. Neat in a tasting glass we have distinctively dry and peppery notes with some lingering sweetness in the finish. In so many ways solid and feels characteristic of its kind. In a tumbler with ice the white pepper takes charge while still finishing with fleeting notes of sweetness.

The bottle is similar to the ones produced by the Grand Traverse Distillery and with labels aspiring to simple and traditional designs. Would definitely like to try this one again

Bulleit ryeBulleit 95 Rye, 90 proof (45%)

The Bulleit company started as a way of continuing a family tradition of making American whiskey carried on from the 1830´s. Their output so far has consisted of a small batch bourbon which I like very much, a 10 year old bourbon which is not available in Sweden and a small batch rye reviewed here. With a mash bill of 95% rye and 5 % malted barley this one goes into the high rye content segment.

Showing a satisfyingly deep amber colour this whiskey delivers a nose combining a complex spicy dryness with hints of vanilla and mint. Neat in a tasting glass the dry peppery notes dominates along with spices and a fruity sweetness added in the middle, finishing more on the dry side . In a tumbler with ice the dryness continues to develop along with a lingering delicate note of sweetness.

The bottle is easily recognized with its glass relief, distinctive form and minimalistic label. A nice design creating a niche of its own. Bulleit rye is a whiskey well worth a repeat visit, just like the small batch bourbon. Sweet.