Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Boston Albums of '08

The Fatal Flaw “We Are What We Pretend to Be” (LUNCH)

With an ear for big, Brit-pop-style melodies and the economy of a hard-hitting pop punk band, The Fatal Flaw charged out of the gates with their debut.

Midatlantic “The Longest Silence” (UNDERGROUND SUN)

The brooding post-punk anthems, chiming guitar sheen, and pulsing disco beats make us so sad we just have to dance it out.

Township “Township” (SELF RELEASED)

The ’70s haven’t sounded this groovy since, well, the ’70s. Dirty grooves and power-riffing make this one throwback worth looking forward to.

Barnicle “Friends of B” (SIDEHATCH/BAMPF)

Speaking of retro, it’s the ’90s all over again with this collection of hard-charging, female-fronted power pop from Barnicle. It’s basically the sound of Boston’s recent past packed into three-minute nuggets of furious guitar pop.

Boston Metro

Friday, December 26, 2008

Barcode: Mantra

Just as the menu at the French-Indian restaurant Mantra is a fusion of cultures, so too is the atmosphere. A mix of old and modern, East and West, the restaurant's a converted bank from the 1800s with the original Italian marble floors and walls. Flourishes like an ornate wooden hookah den, a glowing Buddha statue, a luminescent waterfall, and luxurious, high-backed Indian-style couches make for a blend of upscale dining spot, opulent nightclub, and savings and loan. We weren't sure whether to dance, eat, make a deposit, or ask our server to wave palm fronds over us. So we decided to drink.

"Mantra is a feeling of relaxation," explained general manager Demetri Tsolakis, who said the drinks (sampled above, from left: the Gilas, Teeka Meeta, and Mirchitini) on his brand new cocktail menu are designed to appeal to the seven chakras, or force centers of the body. "Our drinks are more for your mood, to relax you."

Whether or not you'll find some of the spicier cocktails we sampled relaxing or internally combusting probably depends on your threshold for heat. Many are focused on spices found in Indian cooking such as coriander, cilantro, turmeric, and tamarind.

The Teeka Meeta (cayenne pepper, fresh tamarind, pineapple juice, mango-infused Christiania vodka, $12), which means sweet and spicy in Hindi, takes sweetness and spice from the tamarind, and a peppery warmth from the cayenne, which spreads out nicely across the surface of the drink before gradually settling. It's reminiscent of a curry with a bit of burnt pineapple off the grill.

The Hindi word for jalapeno is Mirchi, and it features prominently in the Mirchitini (muddled jalapenos, green chili peppers, cucumber, cilantro, simple syrup, Rangpur Tanqueray, $12). It has a chilled, vegetal crispness, with cooling cucumber and cilantro balancing the muddled peppers. But sip with care, the peppers will catch up with you.

If they do, finish off with the soothing Gilas (chocolate covered cherry juice, Heering cherry liqueur, Baileys, Kahlua, $12). The Hindi word for cherry, the Gilas is dark, silky chocolate shot through with ropes of sweet cherry.

What's the Hindi word for completely satisfied?

Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Living the Dream

The Economy Finally Exists

The economy is a lot like other people's dreams. No one wants to hear you talk about it unless it directly affects them in some way, and while it's entirely inscrutable, vague and ultimately bereft of any real substance, lots of "experts" claim to be able to read the proverbial tea leaves and tell you what they mean.

Also, like all of our dreams, the economy is totally homoerotic, am I right? Well, OK, that one could just be my own thing I'm working through.

Anyway, the point is that the economy, for anyone working in such recession-proof fields as, say, journalism, is completely fake. After all, we're too poor to own anything of value anyway, and we don't get paid enough for make believe swings in Magic Numbers Land to flutter on little butterfly wings into our invisible bank accounts and fuck shit up that isn't there.

In short, the economy is a scam. A confidence game perpetuated by a bloated industry of speculators and slaves to the dollar. A dick-measuring contest propped up by greedy, small-minded people in a country that's long forgotten how to produce anything of substance, so instead have turned the accumulation of money into some perversion of a fantasy role playing game.

Or so I thought, until recently, when the floor finally fell out of this jalopy of a freelance writing career I've been holding together with duct tape, lickspittle and incriminating photos of a number of high-powered Boston editors.

Then again, like almost everyone else who's ever written about the economy, I really don't have any idea what I'm talking about. Hey, get me, I'm a clueless moron. Now where's my fat consulting contract with CNBC?

Turns out—and the rest of you with liberal arts degrees out there might be hearing this for the first time too—the entire economic system in the country is interconnected. That means that when the robber barons have finished gorging themselves on the spoils of war, wrists slick with oil and the tangy sweet blood of evil-doing Iraqis and when the feudal lords pull the old bait-and-switch on dim-witted Americans drunk on the potent, tub-brewed moonshine known as the American Dream of homeownership (no coincidence they call it a dream there), and when the fabulists who've made a princely living moving imaginary money from one column of numbers into another let us peek backstage at the entire rotten, shit- and greed-smeared production, that the omnivorous tendrils of economic calamity will have reached out even unto the furthest reaches of the fairy tale kingdom.

It's a pretty simple cause and effect process here. You lost your house, or your trailer, or cardboard box, or wherever it is you store your flatscreen, and that means you no longer have any money left over to buy newspapers and magazines. Any discretionary spending has to be reserved for staples, like milk or iPods. So publications' circulations, and more importantly, freelancer budgets, are plummeting. Guess whose mouth that warm golden stream of economic hardship is finally tricking down into?

So much like in the aftermath of 9/11, it's time for you to do the patriotic thing, America: throw caution to the wind, take out an extra credit card and start buying tons of useless shit you don't need. Newspaper subscriptions, for example. Go ahead, live the dream.

Weekly Dig

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Berlin: Live At St. Ann's Warehouse

The crucial obstacle live albums have to overcome is how to capture the immediacy of a concert experience that doesn't readily translate to the recorded medium. But any concerns on that front on this 2006 recording of Lou Reed's classic and classically controversial 1973 album "Berlin" at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn are lost with the first boozy, bluesy piano notes of the title track. There's a similar scene-setting intimacy evident on songs like "Men of Good Fortune," an arrangement that startles with the seeming proximity of its dirty guitar crunch. Its rousing choral chorus and dramatic instrumental climax, as on "Caroline Says Pt. 1," push the charged live crowd atmosphere through the speakers, overcoming Reed's typically downcast lyrics and obliterating any sense of second-hand remove. Although it was largely panned upon release, it's hard to see what was so disagreeable about the record some 30 years later. If anything, the songs seem to have improved with age. Perhaps credit is due to the crack band, seven-piece orchestra, and cast of guests like Sharon Jones and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Reed assembled to bring the album to life. It's a dark, brooding life, indeed, but life all the same.

Boston Globe

Friday, December 19, 2008

Barcode: Craigie on Main

Classics with a twist

When celebrated chef Tony Maws recently uprooted his popular Craigie Street Bistro and moved to a larger space in Central Square, he provided the new Craigie on Main with more room to flex its culinary and cocktail-mixing muscle.

An elegantly rustic space, the barroom has a lived-in charm. Low lights, muted green paint, well-worn wooden floors, and a steady warmth off the open-air kitchen add to the sense of comfort and style. Maws's dedication to seasonal and locally grown ingredients carries over to bar manager Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli's concept for the cocktail menu as well.

"We wouldn't be true to what we are doing in the restaurant if we didn't think about seasonality and try to make as much in house as possible," he explained from behind the bar. He was cracking ice cubes and measuring ingredients at a hurried but precise pace. "That means artisanal and small-producer sipping spirits.

"We're steeped in classics and classic techniques," he added as he presented the Martinez (Old Tom Gin, Craigie's Antica Replica, maraschino, bitters, $10), a cocktail from the late 1800s that many consider to be the predecessor to the martini.

"We put this on the menu because we make the vermouth here," he said. A Carpano style vermouth, it's made with a base of red wine, which gives it a spicy, tannic quality. Extraordinarily aromatic, with bitter tannins and touches of cinnamon and cherry, it certainly lives up to its billing on the menu as "the rebirth of martini's mother cocktail."

The description of the Camino Cocktail (Rittenhouse rye, Mirto, Craigie Ambre Vermouth, $10) was a bit more poetic: "Myrtle Berry, Pennsylvania Fire." "I'm a rye guy, the bartender explained, testing a row of cocktails he'd just lined up across the bar. "This is what I would order off the list." Served straight up in a rocks glass (above), he added a kiss of burnt orange oil made by touching a lit match to an orange peel. It's a nice bit of showmanship, but it also brings out the spice of the rye.

Using locally grown pumpkin for a puree made with cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices, and finished with nutmeg, The Hunter's Moon (Reyka vodka, Musque de Provence, honey, $10) was eye-opening as well. It's lighter and cleaner than you'd expect, but there's a richness in the taste that comes from the squash and the rounded sweetness of the honey.

"It's meant to be a seasonal option for a vodka drinker," Schlesinger-Guidelli said. "It fits into what we do." Yes, and they do it quite well.

Craigie on Main, 853 Main St., Cambridge. 617-497-5511.

Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival

Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival proves that our town is still wicked hilarious

ROUNDUP. It’s no secret that the Boston area has a great reputation for producing comedy talent.

Everyone from the heralded hilarious (David Cross, Amy Poehler, Louis CK) to the mediocre superstars (Jay Leno, Dane Cook) and everyone in between (Denis Leary, Conan O’Brien) spent time honing their chops in the Bean. But as with any other art form, there is a rich underbelly of talent that doesn’t always get its proper shine. Comedian Robby Roadsteamer wants to remedy that with The Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival.

“There’s a really exciting scene brewing on the outskirts of Boston,” he says. “[There are] comedians who bring a unique energy and ideas to the stage and don’t necessarily prosper in front of tourists at the Comedy Connection who were choosing between the Paul Revere Trail or comedy.”

It really shouldn’t be a difficult choice. You’ll find more laughs and a lot less boring history tonight at this showcase of Boston comedy talent.

Boston has a good track record of producing famous comedians. Why do you think that is?
Roadsteamer: The community of comics support each other. That’s the bottom line. I think Boston’s in a unique position because in order to do comedy up here you have to want to do it for the love. Most of the time you’re not getting paid, and you tend to have shows where you play in front of bitchy tourists and chicks who watch “Chronicle.” ... Seems like up in Boston, the best you can hope for is a Ticketmaster commercial, but it makes an honest performer out of you.

Bethany Van Delft: Because the combination of Northeast sarcasm and New England sh—y weather breeds hilarious douche bags.

Mehran X: In New York, it’s brutal, soul-crushing competition that loses you in a sea of millions. In L.A. it’s errant stupidity and standards that set a higher premium on looks than content. ... Neither city really creates an environment that encourages a wiseass to discover and develop her or his unique voice. In Boston, we’re doing comedy because we love it.

What’s the funniest thing about Boston?
Shane Webb: Red Sox fans.

Dave Walsh of the Walsh Brothers: The funniest thing about Boston is easily the Boston accent. That's, like, a classic. It's so hilarious. And we don't even know it because we all sound the same. We can't hear each other saying "Y'all" and "G'day Mate". It's just regular language to us.

Chris Coxen: That people still get angry and surprised about winter. From what I can tell, the existence of winter is more or less a consistent pattern and something we should accept and expect each year.

The least funny?
Webb: Red Sox fans.

Coxen: The least funny thing about Boston is that we have an infestation of rats instead of male cheerleaders. Rats aren’t funny. Male cheerleaders are extremely funny.

Walsh: The least funny thing is the Jimmy Fund. Kids sick. No joke.

Got any material about Metro or newspapers in general?

Coxen: No. I’m still learning to read. I can write, obviously, but I can’t read yet.

Walsh: We hate newspapers because you get all that stuff on your hands while reading and then you go to pick up your sub sandwich and you end up getting an Archie cartoon on your sub. That doesn't happen when I pick up the Internet.

Webb: I do now.

Van Delft: We’ll see after this interview.

Boston Metro

Monday, December 8, 2008

Neil Gaiman Part 2

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Luke O’Neil had a chance to talk with Neil Gaiman about a myriad of things over at Metro Newspapers, but O’Neil had a ton more info from the interview that wasn’t used, so we thought it was something you guys would like to take a look at. Let me pass the mike over to Luke for the interview.

A lot of the time doing interviews with well known artists (particularly big time actors and musicians) can be like pulling teeth. Rotten teeth, that is, since most of the quotes you end up getting are barely passable as coherent thoughts. But every now and again you find that rare interview that's not only extraordinarily talented, but also capable of reflecting on, and talking about his or her implementation of that talent in full, thoughtful sentences. When we interviewed Neil Gaiman for the Metro Newspapers last week, he was, unsurprisingly, just that. Unfortunately the paradox with print is that when subjects actually have something to say you never have enough room to let them say it. Consider this the special bonus features from that interview, with the rest of the stuff I had to cut. Here Gaiman discusses the reason most mainstream comic titles are no good, how he ruined comic book stores forever, why there will probably never be a SANDMAN movie, and the legacy of his beloved title below.

The original interview can be found here.

With its swirling, dream-like blend of mythology, fantasy and horror, Neil Gaiman's seminal THE SANDMAN series remains one of the finest achievements in comic book history to date. When it first appeared twenty years ago it combined a literary credibility with a crossover appeal and radically changed the pop culture landscape for years to come. Metro spoke with the British ex-pat about its legacy after the recent release of the fourth THE ABSOLUTE SANDMAN COLLECTION.

LUKE O’NEIL (LO): Obviously there has been extraordinary praise for SANDMAN over the years, including from outside the comics world. How do you explain its sustained crossover appeal?
NEIL GAIMAN (NG): The truth is I don't anymore because it has lasted twenty years. If you asked me while it was going on what the appeal of SANDMAN was I would've talked about it not being costumes and capes, about writing something for an audience of people like me, and hoping that they were out there. But I don't think even at my most madly optimistic I would ever have predicted a future in which twenty years after the first issue it would be selling more copies with each passing year. I think at the time I thought I was doing something that was fundamentally transient. That was going to be around for a little while. The joy of SANDMAN for me now is that it wasn't something that was time specific. And that…I can't explain it, but I delight in it.

LO: Has the genre ghettoization of graphic novels and literature abated since then?

NG: Well, for a start no one would have used the phrase graphic novels because nobody knew what it meant. Today of course no one knows what it means, but we use it all the time, which is different. There was definitely a ghettoization going on back then that you don't get now. One of the most interesting thing in some ways, looking back on it, is that now, and even back then, SANDMAN was making it onto university syllabuses. You would get students forcing their professors to read it. Students would discover it, start talking about it, the professors would have no idea what they were talking about and they would make their professors read it. Now of course you have professors making their students read it, which is kind of different. When we began, SANDMAN was pirate literature. The idea that you could have a quality monthly comic with a story was strange.

LO: Do you think it was sort of a Trojan Horse, sneaking literature in through the back door?

NG: I don't think it was exactly a Trojan Horse, but whatever it was, the magic of it was that it was happening in a place that nobody was looking. We didn't get written about in the New York Times until SANDMAN had been over for ten years. Eighteen years after it began. Which is not that I ever wanted an article in NYT. I think part of the strength and the power that it had was that it existed in the gutter. Nobody looked and nobody cared, and that in itself is a wonderful and empowering sort if thing, because it gives you complete freedom. It wasn't like I was trying to sneak in literature through the back door. What was much more fun was just that I got to tell my stories, and people let me.

LO: It's almost like an underground rock band with a huge following before the money interest have taken a hold of it. It has more time to develop on its own.

NG: I think that's very true. There was a point where SANDMAN was a little indie band. It loved being an indie band. Nobody told us what to do, because nobody had done anything like this before. There weren't any rules. It was amazingly empowering.

LO: You could probably trace the explosion of more serious, or adult, imprints like Vertigo directly to SANDMAN. Then there are of course the books that are obviously indebted to your influence like LUCIFER and FABLES to name two. What do you think of the scope of your creation -- your Dreaming if you will?

NG: It's always really, really hard to figure how much real influence you had on the world. I read an article the other day on one of these online blogs called "Five Ways that SANDMAN Changed the World." And I thought 'well I don't know about that.' I'm all of a sudden much more critical and harder to impress than the people reading it. So it said 'Ok, SANDMAN started the whole neo-superheroes thing' and I thought no. I think the most important thing SANDMAN did, and it did create some important things, was that it was the first mainstream comic ever to finish a story. And I think that cannot be underestimated. The idea before that had always been that if you were writing a monthly comic, let's say Superman or whatever, you couldn't finish it. You weren't ever allowed to do the last one, to have the story mean anything. You had to turn back to the soap opera.

LO: Too profitable to stop.

NG: Exactly. The great thing bout SANDMAN was it was the very first time that anyone ever said, we have this comic, it's selling better than anything else is selling, and when it's done, it's done. And that, in many ways, changed a lot of things. On the other hand, I still get complaints from comic store owners who blame SANDMAN for the graphic novel collections, and for many ways destroying their business. They'd say, look, in the old days if you wanted to read a comic, and it was something that had been published a while ago, the only way to read it was too pay extortionate prices for back issues. These days, if you're interested in what happened, you can go and pick up a trade paper back, which is pretty much everything now that has been reprinted. When SANDMAN began, the idea that what we were doing was not going to be collected, but was going to be in print, was enough. Comics were things that if you wanted to find out what happened in an old comic, you'd rummage in the clutter bin. That was where and how you found out.

LO: There are no stakes in a Spiderman comic. You know no one is going to die.

NG: If SANDMAN changed anything, it's that we got to do things the way we wanted to do. And one of those things that we did was the idea…especially when it's a story fundamentally about stories…that for stories to be important, they have to able to finish.

LO: How have you adapted with the way producing comics over the years has changed? It must be a lot different now than mailing pages across countries…

NG: Well actually there were definitely wonderful things about the world of mailing pages back and forth across countries. Because you could use Fed Ex, as a writer, and everything had a 2 or 3 days buffer zone. These days when people say they want something now, what they mean is email it to me. You could write up to the point that the Fed Ex would come! But overall I love the instant gratification. I am writing my first mainstream periodical comic years, doing Batman, just really mostly to keep my hand in it and find out if it was fun. One of the strange things about that is that I get emailed these glorious pages, and they come in and I look at them on screen, and I think, I would have never have seen this level of detail if they had faxed them to me in the past. It's kind of cool.

LO: How will you square working with Batman with what we were talking about before about finite stories?

NG: Well, one of the things that attracted me to it was when they asked if I would be interested in writing the last Batman story, so that's what I'm doing. The last Batman story.

LO: Movie adaptations are of course a big deal lately. A potential SANDMAN film has been in discussion for years. Do you think we'll ever see it come to fruition?

NG: I think for years the biggest problem that everyone had with the film, which honestly is no less a problem today, is that it was never cheap. By its very nature a Sandman film is going to be filled with special effects. But it also has to be intelligent. You can't turn it into a regular blockbuster, and it's also much too deep. You can't do Sandman in the same way you do Spiderman and say "ok here's one of the villains." Or even Batman. “Everyone loves the Joker, so let's have fun with a Joker story.” SANDMAN doesn't really work like that. Warners has been aware for fifteen, twenty years, that they have something that is one of the jewels in their crown for filming. On the other hand I had a meeting about three years ago with the current heads of Warners studios, who were getting lots and lots of calls from people saying they wanted to make a SANDMAN movie. They wanted to know what this thing was, could I explain it to them. Could I summarize SANDMAN for them. So I went out to Los Angeles and essentially did a three hour presentations with illustrations that we had done specially, statues, all that kind of thing, and explaining the whole story. When I got to the end of the presentation, the current head of Warners, he explained to me the reason that HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS had done so well was that they had very clear cut good guys and bad guys. And they wanted to know does SANDMAN have clear cut good guys and bad guys, and I said no, not even a little bit.

LO: Do you think hundreds of years from now some of our comics will have evolved into myths that we use, the way we think about the ancient stories of gods and so forth now?

It's lovely to think so. Actually what would be even cooler is the idea that all of today's and yesterday's pop culture would evolve into the giant stew, and when they talk about our days they vaguely remember this world in which, you know, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock went to the sky, and Superman and Spiderman kept New York safe, and Batman came out at night and hurt people. And through it all, the Sandman wandered through people's dreams. That would be a lovely kind of world.

Aint It Cool News

Kaiser Chiefs

ESSENTIAL "Like It Too Much"

The Kaiser Chiefs have been very busy churning out bratty, punk-pop hits over the course of their relatively brief but prolific recording career, so you'd imagine that they'd have to hit a speed bump at some point. After all, there are only so many hooks to go around, and they've made a habit of using up three or four songs' worth each on single tracks like the 2005 smash "I Predict a Riot." Inevitably the dreaded third album conundrum rears its spiteful head for everyone. Bands can either start repeating themselves then or call in a big-gun producer for a creative kick in the trousers. Kaiser Chiefs opted for the latter option on "Heads," turning to Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse; Lily Allen, who contributes backup vocals here) to lend some of his neo-soul Midas touch to the effort. The hurtling, new wave keyboard rush of "Never Miss a Beat," the pop-radio swirl of "Like It Too Much," and the casually brilliant bass-bounce of "Good Days Bad Days" prove the band still has more than enough hooks, and brash charm, to get it through even the longest of songwriting winters.

Boston Globe

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Starflyer 59

Dial M
The M stands for Melancholy, Marr
Jason Martin has had ample time to tinker with his band's sound since he first made a name as a guitar-happy shoe gazer in the nineties. The latest incarnation of his band finds him in a reflective mood, treading softly, wielding a heavy heart, and mostly skipping the guitar pedals. Instead moody acoustic strumming and plinking keys as on "The Brightest of the Head" move the misery forward here with a decidedly Smithsian bent. It doesn't hurt the comparison when Martin sings on the reluctantly powerful, understated "Minor Keys" "the saddest songs were wrote in minor keys, like Johnny Marr I want my Please, Please, Please." The pace picks up here and there with the thumping bass and high end synth rush of tracks "Taxi" and "Concentrate" but by and large this is just a bummer…in the best way possible. (Tooth and Nail;

Alt Press

Alternative Press' Anticipated Records of 2009: The Decemberists

EXPECT IT: April, 2009 on Capitol Records (
Fans have come to expect narrative-driven songs from these literate folk rockers, but perhaps not as thematically grandiose as Hazards of Love. "This one is a much more epic undertaking in that it's one story that goes through the whole record," says bass player Nate Query. "It has multiple characters played by multiple singers like Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond." Another curve ball: "There's a lot more guitar on the record than anything we've done…And weird A Clockwork Orange style synthesizer stuff."

Alt Press

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Barcode: Egg Nog

Cheers to the holidays

There aren't many things we're willing to wait for anymore.

Christmas starts right after Halloween now. Seasonal fruits and vegetables? Ship them in from wherever. Holding hands on a first date? What is this, the 1950s? And music floats around free on the Internet months before albums are released. But eggnog is the holdout, the one thing we've collectively decided is worth pining for each year, because with eggnog, the seasonal anticipation is part of the tradition.

At UpStairs on the Square, chef Susan Regis looks back to a tradition of her own with her father's recipe for Holiday Egg Nog (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Cruzan Black Strap Rum, eggnog, nutmeg, $12.) With billowing waves of puffy cream and egg, this unique take on the traditional cocktail (below) is about the furthest thing from the boring old store-bought eggnog we remember from our own family holidays. Then again, none of us were award-winning chefs. With powerful vanilla bean undertones and a heavy hand of cream, this concoction has an almost foamy quality, and is viscous enough that you could eat it with a spoon. That comes from hand-whipping the egg yolks, then folding in the beaten whites. A generous serving of grated nutmeg, and some nice burnt caramel spice from the rum round out the flavor.

For an entirely different style of eggnog, Dante mixologist Stephen Shellenberger took a multicultural, historical approach. He used the once widely popular American drink the Tom and Jerry as a starting point, then looked for some international inspiration.

Eventually, he settled on the Italian zabaglione, which is a type of custard made from yolks and sugar beaten to incorporate a lot of air. When you combine that eggnog-like product with coffee, it is known as a Bombardino, $8.

"The goal in general is to add a creamy, dairyless texture to something hot and boozy," he says. "Eggs and sugar do it awesomely." Here, the alcohol comes from Fernet-Branca . A lot of coffee drinks are too sweet, but this has just a hint of grape that mellows the coffee. The yolk mixture is so light it mostly dissolves, giving the coffee a creamy thickness.

For a decidedly simpler recipe, consider the Botticelli (Absolut Vanilia, Faretti Biscotti Liqueur, eggnog, $12) at Da Vinci. It's a much lighter, crisper offering than the other two, largely because of Shingara Singh's (better known as Chef Peppino) recipe, which calls for a heavier milk than egg ratio. The liqueur, with its almond flavors and whisper of citrus is also a delightful touch here, as it quite literally tastes like biscotti.

We've been waiting a long time to try these seasonal cocktails, but now that we have, we should be all set with eggnog for another 12 months or so. We already miss missing it.

Upstairs on the Square, 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge. 617-864-1933,; Dante, 5 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge. 617-497-4200,; Da Vinci, 162 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-350-0007,

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Neil Gaiman

Gaiman talks legacy of ‘pirate literature’ and sneaking into public consciousness

INTERVIEW. With its swirling blend of mythology, fantasy and horror, Neil Gaiman’s seminal “The Sandman” series, about the Lord of Dreams, remains one of the finest achievements in comic book history to date. “The Sandman” title was published in 75 monthly issues from 1989 through 1996. “The Absolute Sandman” collection, the fourth and final edition of which was recently published, is a gorgeous reproduction of the series in hard bound, handsome volumes with extensive bonus material such as original sketches, scripts and extra short stories. When it first appeared 20 years ago it combined a literary credibility with a crossover appeal and radically changed the pop culture landscape for years to come. We spoke with the British ex-pat about the recent release of the fourth “The Absolute Sandman” collection and the legacy of the series.

How do you explain “The Sandman”’s sustained crossover appeal over all these years?

If you asked me while it was going on what the appeal of “Sandman” was I would’ve talked about it not being costumes and capes, [but] about writing something for an audience of people like me, and hoping that they were out there. But I don’t think even at my most madly optimistic I would ever have predicted a future in which 20 years after the first issue it would be selling more copies with each passing year.

Has the genre ghettoization of graphic novels and literature abated since then?

Well, for a start, no one would have used the phrase ‘graphic novels’ because nobody knew what it meant. Today, of course, no one knows what it means, but we use it all the time, which is different. ... Back then “Sandman” wasn’t making it onto university syllabuses. Students would discover it and the professors would have no idea what they were talking about and they would make their professors read it. Now, of course, you have professors making their students read it, which is kind of different. When we began, “Sandman” was pirate literature. The idea that you could have a quality monthly comic with a story was strange.

Do you think it was sort of a Trojan Horse, sneaking literature in through the back door?

I don’t think it was exactly a Trojan Horse, but whatever it was, the magic of it was that it was happening in a place that nobody was looking. ... I think part of the strength and the power that it had was that it existed in the gutter. Nobody looked and nobody cared, and that in itself is a wonderful and empowering sort of thing because it gives you complete freedom.

New York Metro

Monday, December 1, 2008

Girls, Guns and Glory

GGG prepare to send an ‘Inverted Valentine’ to the world

PROFILE. They may not make rock bands like they used to anymore, but then how do you explain Girls Guns and Glory? A group that seems to have arrived fully formed from some bygone epoch of country rock, the young Boston band’s Americana sound is rich with a maturity that is well beyond the reach of their years and the breadth of their experience. It’s a quality that a dusty, well-worn song like “Temptation” from their most recent release “Inverted Valentine” trumpets instantly in its opening salvo of mariachi horns and singer Ward Hayden’s golden honey and biting whiskey croon.

The latter is GGG’s not-so-secret weapon.

“I’ve got a lot of natural cracks and breaks to my voice,” says Hayden. “Most mornings I sound like a teenager until I’ve been awake for an hour.”

He says he used that cracky voice in his high school choir, where it was not as an appropriate a place for it as rock ‘n’ roll.

“They used to try to train me out of it, but breaking into my falsetto is just how my voice wants to flow,” he says. “I used to always think I’d be better suited for singing country music, but it wasn’t until my early twenties that country and Americana music really caught my ear. Since then I just fell in love with the sound. It’s how I hear the music and it’s much easier for me to sing with a twang and falsetto kind of style.”

Something about that singing style, not to mention the band’s backwoods roadhouse thump, caught the attention of label Lonesome Day Records out of Kentucky.

“Their founder happened to be in the audience at one of our gigs in Lexington, Kentucky,” says Hayden of the fortuitous meeting. “He approached us after the show, wanting to talk further. Long story short, he got in touch with our manager and after a few months of talking back and forth, they seemed like the right label for us at this time.”

Lonesome Day has plans to re-release “Inverted Valentine” early next year with national distribution. Soon thereafter the band begins work on the next album.

In the meantime, their increasingly busy touring schedule continues to ramp up with high profile dates like the Warren Hayes Christmas Jam in North Carolina alongside acts like Steve Earl, Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band. So far, the touring has been a series high with a few lows tossed in to keep things interesting, says Hayden.

“The increased touring has definitely helped make the band a lot tighter. When you’re on the road playing every night, sometimes doing two to three sets, it really gets you on the same musical page as the other guys in the band,” he says. “But, some of the drawbacks are that every now and again you find yourself in a small van with four guys that want to strangle each other over something silly, like ‘who has better sleeping arrangements’ or ‘who threw up in the van and won’t claim it?’ The latter only happened once, but the mystery is still unsolved.”
At this rate it won’t be long before they’ve achieved every band’s real dream: having someone on staff to clean up the throw up for them.

Boston Metro

Bell and Sebastian



It's hard to overstate the importance of these Scottish folk-pop romantics to music fans of a certain persuasion (moping) and world outlook (wearily sarcastic) who came of age in the late '90s. For many of them (OK, us), the literary, lovelorn missives of songwriter Stuart Murdoch and his merry band of miscreants were like a longed-for second coming of Morrissey. Anachronistic in style but utterly modern in outlook, the band changed the musical landscape with its heavy-hearted acoustic strumming, brassy retro bounce, and lonely bedroom confessionals. This collection of live radio performances from the band's early years is like a letter from an old friend long delayed in the post. Favorites in the vein of the bitterly arch "The State I Am In" and the swooning ode to athletic beauty "The Stars of Track and Field" are well represented here in mostly familiar arrangements, as are non-album singles like the swelling march "Slow Graffiti." But it's the quieter takes on the bouncing Motown blast of "Lazy Jane" and unreleased songs like "Nothing in the Silence," featuring the last stunningly precious, tragically beautiful contributions from early band principal Isobel Campbell, that make this a past worth revisiting.

Boston Globe