Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lunar Miasma - Observing the Universe

NOTE: For best results, please play the track below and begin reading


I used to look at the stars. I spent my childhood with my head tilted up towards the sky. Warm summer nights—beneath the universe and its possibilities—I could have imagined anything. But I tried to imagine they did not exist, and everyone and everything never existed. I tried to imagine nothingness.

Late night car trip across the California countryside:

I closed my eyes and was floating in space; rotating in a slow circular motion. There were no planets—only stars. I was observing the universe. Stars in the horizon began to disappear as if I were on a hill watching a power outage slowly sweep across a city. I was on a path towards understanding nothingness, to which each fading star brought me closer. Darkness guiding illumination.

Almost alone. One star left.

Is this loneliness or peacefulness? And when the star is gone—what happens next?

Chills shot through my body and I snapped back into consciousness. I wasn’t able to answer those questions, and haven’t thought about them since. Last summer—listening to “Observing the Universe”—I was reminded of this childhood daydream. I brought the tape with me everywhere I went and used it to reflect on that experience, to rediscover other forgotten memories, and to create new ones to forget and remember years from now. I don’t see the stars much anymore, but that tape takes me there. It takes me there.

Buy the tape from Moon Glyph

RIP, Lunar Miasma

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bread, I guess.

Hey Kids,

I'm here to write a blog post about making bread. Max asked me to write the post, because he is too bashful to ask me directly "Mark, will you teach me how to make bread?" I love that guy, he's adorable. Max's bread writeup is pretty good. The only thing I would add to it is to keep a lab notebook and write down everything that you do. You should actually pay attention to things like rise times, water temperature, flour : water ratio, etc. All of these ingredients are cheap as shit so I don't wanna hear any bitching. And when I said cheap as shit, I almost meant it. There was SOME exageration. Not a lot. Bread flour is 25lbs for 9 bucks at Costco :*6360*7020*&lang=en-US

Chicken shit is 25 lbs for 6 bucks

Steer manure will of course be cheaper, but I do not recommend baking with it. If you are just starting out in the kitchen, the best thing you can do for yourself right now is to start with good ingredients. They are much more forgiving. Somewhere there is a joke about cow-pies. I didn't make it. If you made the joke as you were reading it, good on you, start your own blog. Or write for this one. That's what I do. If I haven't successfully dissuaded you, here is some cheap steer manure:

You will notice that it is sold by volume, not by weight. This is very dangerous. Most bakers measure their ingredients by weight, not by volume so there will be some extra work if you want to adapt an established recipe to substitute cow shit for flour. It is my recommendation that you use 75% regular flour; 25% shit, as the shit has quite a strong flavor. The same ratio works well for rye and whole grain flours. Back to bread.

Max did a pretty good job with his bread. Don't leave the plastic on yours like he did. I mostly used sourdough kept as starter. If you have a friend with starter, that is the best way to get some. Whatcha do is

1) Add flour and water to the starter. Let it get bubbly.
2) Split the starter, save some for later.
3) Add more flour and water to the part you are not saving for later. Also some salt is good.
4) Knead.
5) Let it rest & rise.
6) Bake.

I know that isn't a lot of instruction. Get up on youtube. Seriously, who gets their breadmaking advice from a blog? Watch some videos, they aren't long. The important part is to pull a skin on your bread. If the video you are watching doesn't mention pulling a skin at all, you are either watching a dumb video or it is for a different kind of bread. Sourdough should have a skin on it. Also if you are doing sourdough, I like to make the rise times really long. The sourness comes from the lactobacilli bacteria which live symbiotically with the yeast. All the yeast does is add bubbles to make it rise. Yeast goes crazy with heat, but bacteria don't need it, so if your kitchen is cold at night, a super good way to go is to form your dough into a bread shape, with the skin pulled on it, then leave it to rise overnight. It'll be cold in your kitchen, so the yeast will work slowly while the bacteria go crazy. In the morning your loaf is perfectly risen and your dough is sour as hell, in the best of ways. My advice is to let it rise on the sheet you are baking it on, since the dough will be hard to move without destroying its pristine risen-shape. Once you've made about 5 loaves you can just start wingin it. You'll poke the dough and decide it is not the right consistency, then fix it. Easy-peasy.

Here is a funny story. I once baked a loaf of sourdough in the shape of a heart. I gave it to a girl on Valentine's day. The only trouble was that she went out clubbing downtown about 5 minutes before i got to her apartment, but her roommate took the loaf and said she'd give it to her later. I guess she ate the loaf with her friends when they all came back from the bars that night. I guess you could say I simultaneously gifted 5 girls on Valentine's day, but didn't score with any of em. Shit. Was that funny?

Here is another funny story: My sourdough starter kinda died because I ignored it for a week. This is how I know I am not ready to have children. Fortunately, I had given some starter to Nick so that he could bake sourdough (I heard it got him laid, so I take some credit for that). He gave some starter back to me, so it was like I had resurrected my dead child or something. Anyway, I made a loaf of bread, and completely fucked up and spaced on step #2. I know, like, fuck that is pretty early to fuck up on. The loaf was okay, and I realized later what I had done. I didn't really miss it, and I was at a crucial decision point in my breadmaking career anyway : 25lb bag of flour was 95% empty. Buy more? Don't buy more? Don't buy more.

About a year later I started making croissants. Those are a real panty-dropper (in simulations only). It's basically just like making bread, except instead of making it into a bread shape and letting it rise then baking it, what you do is you roll it out real flat, put a LOT of butter on it (way more butter than you would ever actually put on the bread if you were eating it as bread. I use 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter), then fold that sum'bitch up like a letter, roll it out again, fold it, roll it, fold it, roll it. You should now have 19 layers of bread separated by 18 layers of butter (they are REALLY thin layers, altogether added up should be about 1/4 inch). Hopefully you rolled it into a rectangle shape, because yer gonna cut it into triangles. OF COURSE any polygon can be cut into triangles. I know all about regular and irregular geometries. I'm just sayin that the only 2 easy shapes to roll are a rectangle and a circle, and circles might be the only shape that don't cut nicely into triangles. Go for the rectangle. Cut that rectangle into triangles. Isosceles triangles work really well here, although almost any triangle will do. It is mostly important that the height is greater than the base. This helps with the rolling. Roll them suckers up, put em on yer baking sheet, and let em rest & rise. Ya might wanna cover em in plastic wrap (be super gentle). Take the plastic wrap off before you put them in the oven. Yer also gonna wanna brush them with a beaten egg just before ya bake em. That makes them nice n brown n crusty on top. This doesn't help the flavor much, but is especially useful if you are trying to sell these to strangers for money. They HAVE to look good. Well, they don't HAVE to have to, but it sure as shit does help, and if you are real forreal selling pastries for money you are livin on a shoestring and your profit margins are crap and a half, so every bit counts. Consider the eggs a wise investment. You can brush, like, 10 or 12 croissants with one egg. Maybe more, depending on how big your croissants are. Again, check out youtube. There's a billion videos, most of em are good.

The croissants will be awesome when they come out of the oven. They will be great the next morning. Second morning they will be okay. They won't be good on third morning, you should bake new ones. What you should do is start a croissant co-op in which participating members take turns baking croissants and delivering them to other members so that no one person is baking every god damn fucking night I mean seriously people it isn't hard it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of giving a god damn crap why is everyone dependent on me this is bullshit bullshit BULLSHIT.

Here is a funny story about croissants. I was working on a farm in France, where croissants originated and are also super popular to this day. Some girl from England who was working on the farm had to go back to England and was sad because she had never had a fresh croissant while she was in France. I am the fucking MAN and woke up at the asscrack of dawn to start the yeast for the croissants which I baked for breakfast at 8am on her last morning. You can see pics of this on my facebook and also my okcupid profile , . The punchline is that this girl was living on a farm in France, working with French people, also Belge and German and Swiss and whatever, and the AMERICAN made the croissants. It's the collective shame of the Europeans present which makes it funny. Ha ha ha. Oh man. Fuckin' Europeans.

So that's basically what I know about bread and croissants. Croissants are cool because you never have trouble giving them away, so you can make a lot of them for practice/science. DO NOT EAT THEM ALL YOURSELF, YOU WILL GET FAT AS A HOUSE. Guys, it is true that ladies go crazy for a man who can make croissants (that is why this trick is called "the panty dropper"), unless he is FAT AS A HOUSE. HOUSE-LIKE FATNESS TRUMPS ALL. Even with blind chicks. They can feel your fatness as you walk, shaking the earth with every step. Best to just give away as many croissants as you can. You won't miss em.

Here's a funny story: My thesis defense was basically a joke (Max was there, he can tell you), but I am a Master of Science anyway, because I baked a bunch of croissants and brought them to the defense with an assortment of jams and jellies and other spreads. The good stuff, from Trader Joe's. I had a lot riding on these pastries (the fruits of my entire collegiate experience). I wasn't gonna fuck em up with some Safeway-brand fruit-flavored spread (95% corn syrup, 4% unlucky bugs, less than 2% of the following : fruit, flavor).

There ya go. I hope ya learned something. It feels good to have all of these stories compiled in one place. I'd never realized how many bread stories I had. I'll add more here as I think of them.

Here is a song about hipsters because this is a music blog.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Bake Bread Like an Idiot - Part One

I chose the title of this post very carefully. This is not an attempt to do some sort of "complete idiot's guide to baking bread" for people that have no experience baking and need a primer. Rather, this is an attempt to explain how an idiot bakes. I'm talking about general idiocy as opposed to baking-specific idiocy (although you'll probably find that the former term umbrellas the latter). Any useful information contained in this post is purely coincidental.

Humans have been baking the staff of life for thousands of years, way before anyone knew what yeast was. It pretty much happened by accident.  Basically: white bread is easy. Really all you need is the following:

2 1/2-ish cups white all-purpose flour (I've had really good luck substituting half whole wheat flour)
1 cup warm water
1 yeast packet from the grocery store
2 tsp salt
1 tbl olive oil
maybe some rosemary or Italian seasoning or something

I've heard that baking recipes should be followed as specific instructions as opposed to suggestions. I made up all those amounts right now, off the top of my head (we're off to a great start already!). This should get you pretty close though and mostly you'll just have to adjust flour/water mix.

Before everything comes together it helps a lot to rehydrate your yeast and get everything churnin'. Take your water, add like 1tsp sugar, put in your yeast packet and stir everything up really good. In like 10 minutes it should be frothy and weird looking. That's science! Later you're going to eat those (alive) yeast bodies once you've used them and they've outlived their purpose to you. For now just let them be, fucking like (microscopic) rabbits and generally living with no knowledge of their future. Maybe take a second to contemplate the tenuous nature of existence. 

Put all the other stuff (minus water) into some type of vessel. I don't care what you use. A plate probably won't work but some bowls may be big enough. Is your yeast bubbling? Add that too. Stir everything up really good until it turns into a big mess of dough. Once its a pretty solid mass and doesn't stick to your fingers, start kneading. I'm not really sure how to explain kneading but it's sort of like controlled smashing. I feel like I just sorta "knew" what kneading was before I ever needed (pun) to do it myself. Like one of those animal instinct things? If you're feeling scared I bet you could look up some Youtube videos that show things in more detail (technically I just described ignorance and not idiocy so I don't feel compelled to explain further). Keep kneading for awhile. Add some flour if it's too sticky. Add water if it's not sticky enough. How do you know? If the dough sorta amorphously envelopes your hands then it's too sticky.

Once you've got a good ball coat a bowl with some olive oil and throw in the dough to rise. Cover with saran wrap. Now's your chance to go drink a few beers and reflect on how easy things have been so far. Check on it in a few hours. Has it like...doubled in size? Knead it a little bit more and transfer the ball to whatever you're going to bake it in. I've been using a really cool cast iron dutch oven I got for Xmas. It gets super fucking hot and the lid weighs like a million pounds which helps keep in moisture. Cover the dough in saran wrap again and pop the lid on that sucker. Wait another 30-60 minutes for the dough to rise again.

You've probably noticed by now that this has taken you a good chunk of your afternoon. This is why baking sucks. Now's a good time to start like 3 separate projects. Drink some more beer, start chopping vegetables for dinner, think about what your next music post will be about (drone maybe?). Clean your bathroom. The beer should have kicked in by now which should lend a nice sense of urgency to everything. Turn your oven to 375 and let things come up to temp (oven thermometers cost 5 bucks and let you easily control temperature). The dough has certainly had enough time to rise; no need to check on it, just pop the whole thing in the oven.

Once it's been long enough to get distracted by something else you're gonna want to remember to look at the time on your phone because you forgot to note when you put in the bread. It's probably only been like 10 minutes so subtract that. You seem to remember thinking that the bread will be ready in about 45 minutes but you can't remember where you read it. Put your phone away and immediately forget everything you just did, including both the current time and the calculated bread start estimate. Watch a couple Youtube videos about capitalism and the death of the middle class to get you angry for dinner.

For dinner (at least this last time) I ate some walleye fillets that my dad flew in from Wisconsin for Xmas (this is really not a meal typically eaten with bread, nor is it really relevant to the lesson). While the butter is melting on the skillet you may want to ruminate about the statistical probability of being the only Californian eating walleye. How would you even calculate that? Just as you begin to fry the fish remember to check the time. It's been about an hour since the bread went in (wait did you say it had been like ten minutes before? Or was it closer to fifteen?). Oh well a little extra time can't hurt. Turn off the oven and take out your bounty. Remember to use oven mitts! The fish cooks really fast and needs most of your attention so just let the bread sit for a few minutes.

Once the fish is cooked you can finally take a look at your bread. Grab the handle on the lid with your bare hands. It will probably be about 350 degrees. At this point there are three possibilities:

  1. Recoil in pain. Every time!
  2. Depending on the beer intake and your reflex time you might do that thing where it takes a couple moments to realize you just burned your hand. You may have even had enough time to lift the lid off the pot.  Instinctively let go of the lid and let it crash on the floor. It's gonna be hella loud and may even crack your tiles. The lid will be completely unharmed, however.
  3. Similar set up to 2. above, however this time you attempt a "grocery man's kick." This is actually a pretty cool move where you try to "catch" or "cushion" a dropped object with your foot. I've saved a couple of glasses and plates this way (I'm kinda clumsy). If the lid lands on its edge on your toe then you probably just broke your toe. If you're not wearing socks then you definitely just burned your foot.
Oh well whatever. The bread is actually pretty good! Your roommate may ask you what the weird shiny "skin" stuff is. I dunno, nothing probably. Maybe flour? Let it cool enough that you can touch it comfortably with your un-burned hand. It's best still warm and I've found I can basically just eat it plain when it's fresh out of the oven. A little butter or cheese is awesome too but you don't want to overpower the taste of the bread. 

About a day after you finish the loaf remember that you forgot to take the saran wrap off the dough.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Young Widows - Old Wounds

This band is really loud. I have no idea why I've never heard of them before now because they should fit right in with most of the blogs I read. Most of the bands I've ever heard from Louisville seem like they're loud. I wonder if it's something in the water. 

I forget if I've said this before but my favorite band size is three. Two pieces are kinda cool but I think they got played out with the math rock stuff. They also usually lack gnarly low end. Four or more is fine but just not as impressive as three. This band has three members and the music is just chunky as hell. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

More steaks.

I've got the alley-oop for Max here (sports metaphor), having successfully dated a girl with a steak. Here's what I did / what you should do. This is loosely based on actual events, in the same way that the film "Titanic" was based on actual events.

1) Buy a Prime NY steak at Costco. $16/lb, mine was about 0.9lb. The steak was more than an inch thick.
2) Leave the steak in your car while you talk to your shrink. This is part of the acclimation process. It will not work well if your car is very cold.
3)Go home from your shrink's office. Take the steak with you.
4)Resume acclimation on the counter. This will not work very well if your kitchen is very cold.
5)Get your date revved up. Do this by telling her that you have a thrilling tale, but force her to go to the library with you first before you tell it. This is called foreplay.
6)Return from the library and pour some drinks to set the mood for story-telling. I used non-alcoholic drinks because at the time I was on medication which conflicted with alcohol. My sweetest honeybunny wuvvwy widdle honey gem jewel abstained from alcohol in solidarity. This is not a necessary element, but if your date is on the wagon and you drink as the host, you are a cunt, and will probably die as a virgin, and rightfully so, thank you natural selection.
7)Tell a tale of your quest for an awesome dinner feast. It is important that you be questing for something which is slightly less bodacious than the steak you have on the counter (she hasn't seen it yet). Then tell her how you failed in your quest because of market availability or something. She will be distraught. Then you tell her about the steak. Then she wants to see it. Oh baby does she want to see it. Make her beg for it. Get overtly sexual as you do it. Strong innuendos. Then bring out the steak. If she doesn't say something along the lines of "oh, it's so thick" or "it looks so big, I don't know if I can take that much", chuck that bitch out. It doesn't really matter what she says as long as she continues the innuendo.
8)She touches the steak. She remarks on how soft it is, not sure if she should be excited (that is a good quality in meat) or sad (not a good quality in penis). Tell her that it will firm up some as things heat up. She grins, obviously impressed by your skilled recovery of an unsure situation. Then you tell her that the steak is still acclimating and is not ready to cook, but that you have some already-firm meat to entertain her while the steak finishes acclimating, about 15 minutes. No, 30 minutes. Oh fuck yes.
9)Have sex. It's good, you enjoy it. Don't be skimpy with the cunnilingus. I have it straight from the mouth of a real live woman that most sexual dissatisfaction results from insufficient time dedicated to foreplay, not penetration. Are you hearin' me, fellas? YA DON'T GOTTA POUND THAT PUSSY FOR AN HOUR. FIVE MINUTES WILL BE FINE, IF YA PREP IT RIGHT. THIS IS THE SAME WAY YOU COOK A STEAK. If your medications include anorgasmia as a side-effect, that sucks.
10)Cast iron skillet, high heat. Love that steak with some S&P. Big ol rock's of S, that's how I like it. It might be called "sea S", but it is really just like regular S, but in big ol' rocks. The P should be freshly ground over the steak. If this does not describe how you put P on your steak, you are ruining that steak, and you are also an idiot who will likely die a virgin, unless you followed steps 4-9. This is why those steps came first, before you showed her that you don't know how to cook a steak. I'm dooming mankind by providing the "cheat codes" around natural selection. What are YOU doing with YOUR life?
11)Is that skillet hot? Put some oil in it (not a lot). If your oil explodes into flames you are using the wrong kind of oil. Put the steak into the skillet on top of the oil. If it is not sizzling, you have failed. Take the steak out and research chemical castration on the internet while your pan continues heating up. It is considered good practice as a host to provide a magazine or something for your poor, poor, guest. At this time she may request an alcoholic beverage. You should fulfill that request, it's the least you can do. The poor girl is devastated. If the steak sizzles, everything is good. Let it sizzle for a couple minutes. Then turn it over and let it sizzle on the other side for a couple minutes. Hold the steak on its edge so that the white fat gets cooked, Then turn the heat off and let it absorb the residual heat from the skillet. You've probably heard that a steak should only be flipped once. The truth is that it only NEEDS to be flipped once. You can cook a great steak flipping it only once. It won't ruin anything if you flip it twice, or three times. After that and you're a circus clown. Just remember how much time you have it on each side so that it cooks more-or-less symmetrically. You can poke it with your finger to see how cooked it is, but unless you have poked a lot of steaks of this cut and this grade and this thickness, it isn't a very precise test. That is ok. A good steak is very forgiving.
12)Let that steak rest a few minutes. Slice an onion and cook it up in the steak juices. Remember that steak? Cut it in half. Put one of the halves on your date's plate. You should have side dishes ready to accompany. If your date is worth a damn she will have prepared a salad or something while you handled the steak. Or, if YOU are worth a damn, you already have a side ready. Like a salad.
13)Eat that steak. It's so, so good. Fuck is it good. It is rare as hell, and that is the way you and your date like it. You're gonna slice a piece off of your half and feed it to her. Fuck. Yes. Her eyes close cus she's havin' such a good time. In the restaurant industry this situation is called "Maximum jizz factory".
14)Have sex again.

7)SEX. (optional)

Send questions to (That is for real).

***SPECIAL UPDATE*** 1/16/13
Here is how you don't burn your hand on the skillet like in Max's method.
Buy one of these, or if your birthday is coming up, ask your grandma for one. It is her pleasure to spoil you with gifts and she cannot stand how content you are with your modest lifestyle. If your birthday is not for awhile, you should abstain from steaks until then. That is plan B. It is a stupid plan. Don't do it. Just go out and buy one. I like brightly-colored ones because you look at them and think "WTF IS THAT? OH RIGHT, THE SKILLET IS FUCKING HOT, BUT (counter-intuitively) THE RED PART IS SAFE TO GRAB." You should put the handle-cover-thing on the skillet handle AFTER it comes out of the oven. You might even put it on the skillet after you open the oven door but before you take the skillet out. Then you know that you are protected. One step process, chuck those oven mitts (unless you have another hot dish to serve with the steak which would require insulating protective garments, or maybe you are super poor and use the oven mitt to protect the table from the hot bottom-side of a pan. Frugality is sexy. To me.).

I would like to clarify some things RE: the girl who ate the other half of my steak. Thing ONE: Steps 9 and 14 happened in simulations only. She is not that kind of girl. I repeat, SHE IS NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL. Thing TWO: We were already in a committed relationship at the time of eating. The steak was NOT instrumental in the initial courtship, but was certainly useful as a means of maintaining friendly relations.

How I Cook My Steaks

I thought it might be fun to do something a little bit different over here at the HHH. I consider myself a decent+ cook in general but I really make a mean-ass steak. And I'm a modest guy! Now that I'm a young single yuppie I have both the means and the empty Saturday evenings to do all the experimentation and write this thing up.

The first step is to buy a nice steak. It should be as thick as possible with big veins of fat running all around and through it. Feel free to buy something a little pricier. You work hard, and you deserve to treat yourself. Take it home and just leave it on the counter for awhile so it's at room temperature when you're ready to cook it. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on each side and pat everything in. It should make a satisfying slapping sound. If you're afraid of room temperature meat or whatever then lighten up. Go drink a beer in the other room and steel yourself. Also this may be a good time to take the batteries out of all your smoke detectors. 

You're gonna want to turn your oven to the highest temperature possible. You may be able to short out your thermostat to really take things to the limit. Use your imagination. Open up your bottle of wine and pour a glass. Turn on some music.

Now that your oven is up to temperature put an oven-safe pan onto your stove and turn it up as high as it can go. I use a cast iron skillet and it's awesome. Pour a little bit of grapeseed oil (or similarly high smokepoint oil) into your pan and let it roll around and get hot. Just when it starts to smoke put the meat on. Flip it once at one minute. Don't move it at all or touch it in between. After the second side sears put the whole pan and steak into the oven and do another  90 seconds on each side. Take everything out and let the steak sit covered for another 10 minutes. Maybe crumble some blue cheese on top. Do you want to use this time to make a side dish? I don't care what you do, but it sounds like a good idea. You'll never find a blog post on this site about side dishes. This is a good opportunity to forget that your pan was just in a 500 degree oven. Grab the handle with your bare hands and then immediately recoil in horrible pain. Every time! Open up the windows in your kitchen and air out all the smoke.

This will make a medium-rare steak. You might need to play around with the cooking times. I've halved everything I just wrote and made a pretty delicious rare steak if you've got the stomach for it. My gut tells me that this would make a good date dinner but I really have no idea what women like or what they enjoy eating. If you're a woman (or you just know a woman) and have any thoughts re: things you like, please contact me. I'm guessing the trick involves getting her to drink some red wine beforehand so that the rest doesn't matter.

Pachangacha - Berserkabunga

This band got lost during the great music crash of 2012 and I only just remembered them (more on that in another post, maybe). Totally snotty Weezer sounding fuzz. I know better than to take something like this seriously and some of these songs are almost offensive to me in how much they don't seem to give a shit. For example: they're apparently from Connecticut but write about surfing. Also all the high pitched singing. But do you know what? I also don't give a shit. Great heavy power chords and some good yelling during the choruses. Suck it, taste.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Artist of the Year - John Fahey

"When I come home exhausted and I want to lay down and forget about my obligations to other people, I'll turn on noise and enjoy it. Noise has nothing to do with people, and I don't want to think about people while I'm resting. Then I'll fall asleep, and when I wake up, I'll be ready to go and deal with people again." - John Fahey

"How the fuck has it taken me all these years to never have heard of John Fahey!" - me, as a younger, stupider man.

I've been wanting to write up John Fahey's music for the better part of 2012 but I wasn't sure how to do it justice. I've been slowly trying to make my way through his back catalog. I've found his music to be consistently engaging and emotionally charged.

John Fahey is a blues musician for people that hate Eric Clapton and a folk artist for people who think Pete Seeger is an asshole. He founded Takoma Records way back in 1959 (way before independent labels were even a thing) as a vehicle to put out his own music. The first album was a "split" with Blind Joe Death (also Fahey) and he mostly gave the records away, snuck them into record stores or sent them to musicologists with the hope that they would confuse him for some unsung hero of the 1920s. He traveled around the South and recorded various old blues musicians for Takoma while  scrounging for Charley Patton records and developing his musical sensibilities. He put out more music, got a little bit bigger, released some weird sound collage type things and experimented with acoustic guitar over the next 30 years, turned into an alcoholic, almost died and then was rediscovered by The Underground. He had a short resurgence making raga guitar noise. Then he died, leaving behind a career of music either out of print or out of mind.

Over the last year I've found myself calming down a lot. The pure technical wizardry and multi-layered doodling that used to get me off just doesn't do it for me anymore (what has happened?). It's sort of embarrassing for me to admit now but actual songwriting is not something I began to take very seriously with my music listening until recently. Sometimes I think I struggle with my music vocabulary and this essay proves especially hard. Here's my first try: John Fahey studied music his entire life. Where he excels is how he stitches those influences together into challenging compositions that build on so-called American "primitive" guitar and turn it into something bigger. To put that another way: you can tell that he's trying really hard and that he's got the good taste to make that effort something transcendent.

I've heard various writers describe Fahey as trying to "transform the acoustic guitar into a classical concert instrument" or some similar bullshit that I don't buy. That sounds very pompous to me. In interviews and writings Fahey strikes me as a pretty modest guy who didn't even particularly like his own music. I think a closer truth is that Fahey was one of those iconoclasts who wanted to make music but couldn't get behind the pretentious self-congratulations of the hippies or the affected crotch waving of rock 'n roll. I doubt he would have known how. I think he was a lonely, damaged man who felt a connection with music more than he felt with people or society.

It's very appropriate that he titled his autobiography How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life. Why do we choose to do things that we know will hurt us? What is the difference between sadness and heartbreak? I posit that while sadness may be regrettable it is also unexpected and mostly unforeseen. True heartbreak involves pursuing something that you know is doomed, something that you had no control over that you would still repeat knowing the outcome. I'm convinced that John Fahey was never a happy guy. Everyone is always so obsessed with tragic artists and their demise yet nobody ever asks why they continued (or started in the first place). There's a fine line between being a romantic and being pathetic. Between integrity and naivety. How do you decide? Ask the starving artists, or the single mothers, or the politicians. Ask the religious martyrs and the punx. The fuck if I know.

Assuming anybody is still with me after that masturbatory paragraph, here's some music!
Sunflower River Blues: Quintessential Fahey. From 1964's The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death.
When the Catfish is in Bloom: Off of Requia in 1968. Pretty straight forward and stays interesting for the whole 7+ minutes. Fun fact: the second side Requia is mostly a "musique concrète" (whatever that means) experiment in noise and spoken word. It's terrible and should be avoided at all costs.
Steamboat Gwine 'Round de Bend: Live footage! Not sure when this song was released. Slide guitar owns.
Dalhart, Texas, 1967: Released on America in 1971, this song shows Fahey's great use of restraint and setup for the jam at about 4 minutes in. Possibly my favorite song right now. Sorry about the Myspace link (I didn't realize Myspace still existed) but this was the only version of this song I could find.
The Voice of the Turtle: A lot of people consider this to be his best song. Also off America.
Dry Bones in the Valley: This is a Fahey song but played by Jim O'Rourke (who has been involved with every cool band you've ever heard).
The Dance of the Cat People: The only late-period Fahey song I feel like linking. From Hitomi in 2000. This is really only good academically, as opposed to actually.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Album Of The Year 2012: Now, Now - Threads

Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative
For Fans of: Fences, Dad Rocks!

Now, Now- (Now, Now Every Children) Based out of Minneapolis, this young dynamic trio of talent released their newest album Threads off of Trans Records at the beginning of 2012. This album unexpectedly swept me off my feet when I first heard it. I was able to get a hold of this 12-tracked gem thanks to Terrorbird Media and was immediately pulled into their starry effect, constant rhythms, and beautiful harmonies.

Cacie Dalager steers the album vocally with a spacious coolness that is the timbre of her voice. "The Pull" sets the mood with hazy swells that gives it almost a terrestrial tone as if the effects given on her voice could remind someone of a message sent via satellite: radio rustic vocals, constant beeps, and dreamy ripples in back. This track smoothly transitions into an ethereal track titled "Prehistoric" which pulls on the heart strings with powerful imagery of longing:

"I would trade this sleep for you in a heartbeat. But this weather will not lift it leaves us shouting into cliffs without an echo."

Together these songs are the perfect jumping point into what’s to be anticipated later in the record.

Yet, not all tracks are fuzzy and atmospheric. Their single "Thread" hits hard with a punching intro full of chaotic guitar riffs. Brimming with hooks, this and ‘"Wolf" show to be the two catchiest tracks off the album. What also makes these two songs stand apart from the others is the juxtaposition of radio friendly melodies with the addition of their haunting poetic lyrics of yearning and decaying relationship stages. The lines: "Find a thread to pull and we can watch it unravel" are not only spoken in "The Pull' as an introduction bit but it is also repeated in the middle of the album with "Thread". The imagery leaves listeners to interpret a long weakening love which serves to be the overall theme of the album. 

Threads closes with 'Magnet", a slower song driven with heavy repetitive keys that rise back into ‘The Pull’ lyrics. The song ends on Cacie’s voice echoing the same words leaving you to take the meaning wherever.

Often people look for that one poem, that single quote, pause on that embrace in a film, or dig through cardboard boxes to find that one photograph of you and your past beloved together to remind yourself that flame once did exist. This album captures that romantic nostalgia in a bottle; the heart wrenching song you repeat because the sentimental feelings need to deal. Now, Now has successfully become an album for me that is melodically charming as it is harmoniously eluding. 


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Guest Album Of The Year 2012: Sigur Rós - Valtari

Genre: Post Rock, Ambient
For Fans Of: Mogwai, Bjork

Sigur Rós, a post-rock/ambient band known for their soundscapes that embodies a filter of glacial topography: never ending stretches of fjords, faint echoes in abandoned homes and factories of their homeland, Reykjavik, Iceland. They are a conduit that fills in the gaps between realism and the ideals of escapism. For 18 years, Sigur Rós's music has slowly progressed and refined into creating a sound that is otherwordly. A constant growth that continues to surprise, Valtari reflects this, an album that marks a new sound in their career.

The minimalistic subtlety of nostalgic quietness: the sounds of dusted, crackling records player, pianos out of tune, and angelic falsettos that are uniquely applied to this record. I remember listening to Valtari a month before its initial release, and I found myself in tears listening through. I felt like a was being transcended into my oldest memories to the vibrant present. I have had many conversations with friends about the effect that Sigur Rós gives, and I always say its like being Reborn. Breathing fresh, crisp air for the first time and letting it fill in you completely, in the most muted and subdued way possible - is what i find most comforting.

We're subconsciously finding music that defines us, how we live, how we become inspired, what we create, or just simply music that parallels with our daily lives. Or perhaps music that guides us to solitude for when we need it the most. Valtari does just that, and has filled all these roles for me in 2012.

-May Xiong

May Xiong is an artist based of the Central Valley, California. You can see her stunning artwork here.