Monday, May 31, 2010

Hooray For Earth

Hooray For Earth



As if we needed any further evidence of the synth’s ascendency to its proper place on the throne of contemporary indie, this six-song EP from the Boston-New York four-piece Hooray for Earth further smudges the meaningless lines between rock and electronic. Gritty distortion and the filtering of the beautiful through a wall of fuzz has always been the primary attack in the perpetually burgeoning band’s diverse arsenal, but this bundle of washed-out synth euphoria largely writes Hooray for Earth’s bygone guitar shredding out of the picture. Instead the bright noise comes in heavily affected group vocal harmonies and cresting waves of keyboard rapture. Opener “Surrounded by Your Friends’’ crystalizes the ethos at work here; it’s like a 1960s folk band tripping through space and time. If it hasn’t already been licensed for a half dozen commercial spots yet, don’t be surprised to hear it in some hip car company’s pitch, like tomorrow. “Comfortable, Comparable’’ works the climactic 1980s teen film montage uplift that bands like Yeasayer have popularized of late, while “Get Home’’ deals a grimmer, dark-wave austerity. The band, which has just embarked on a high-profile national tour, has been threatening to break out for years. This should do the trick. (Out tomorrow)

ESSENTIAL “Surrounded by Your Friends’’

Boston Globe

Friday, May 28, 2010

Carrie on, in style

Before or after catching the new ‘Sex and the City’ movie toast the night with some specially designed cocktails

Recession? What recession? Reviewers may be panning it, but the release of “Sex and the City 2’’ this week will undoubtedly bring out the Cosmo-swilling, Jimmy Choo-wearing fans of the former, long-running HBO show that spawned the first movie back in 2008. As much as the show is about clothes and shoes, though, it’s also about friendship and laughter and bonding with the ladies. At least that’s what my girlfriend tells me. I watch shows about trucks and fighting, and trucks that fight.
While “Sex and the City’’ had an impact on big chunks of American culture, from sexual mores to fashion to the way we think about the modern city, one of the biggest areas of influence came in its devotion to the beauty, and utility, of a good cocktail.

The Cosmo and the Appletini seem démodé by now, but for better or worse, Carrie’s drinks of choice introduced the idea of fun cocktails to a whole generation of women and (admit it) men. “Sex and the City 2’’ will be playing all over, so stop in to one of these bars before or after for cocktails designed specifically to celebrate the movie.

Cafe Escadrille has four champagne cocktails made for each of the main characters, like The Fashionista (Moët Imperial Rosé, pomegranate juice, pink rose petal garnish, $9). “The pomegranate makes this drink a sort of a cousin to the Cosmo, which Carrie made famous during the TV show years,’’ says bartender Mike Overlan. “Carrie is famous for accessorizing her outfits, so a drink in her name couldn’t go without, hence the rose petal.’’

At Burton’s Grill they’re featuring four character-specific cocktails as well, including The Samantha (vodka infused with cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, $9) and The Miranda (raspberry vodka, Chambord and fresh raspberries, $9).

And since you’re probably going to want something to snack on with cocktails like The Cherry Tart (Orchard Cherries, orange liqueur, Spanish sparkling wine, mint, and amarena cherry, $10, pictured) Church is offering an appetizer sampler for $10 and a free dessert with your movie ticket. “When thinking of ‘Sex and the City,’ I immediately think of the strong characters, so I wanted to create four distinctive drinks with strength and fragility intertwined with humor and heartache,’’ says bartender Josh Eaker. Strong characters are good. Strong cocktails with character — better.

Cafe Escadrille, 26 Cambridge St., Burlington. 781-273-1916. Burtons Grill, 1363 Boylston St., Boston. 617-236-2236. Church, 69 Kilmarnock St., Boston. 617-236-7600.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

That's eye catching

Designers grade the new Olympic mascots

Last week the world was introduced to Wenlock and Mandeville, the mascots for the 2012 London Olympics, an unusual duo that immediately found themselves mired in controversy. Like oversize cellphones, the creatures gaze out with a huge single eye, their lobster-like claws waving in cheery welcome. The debate over the mascots began immediately, as the sporting and design communities wondered what exactly the tech-age Polyphemuses had to do with the Olympics — or, for that matter, with London.

For years, Olympic mascots were depicted as indigenous animals of the host country, ones generally festooned with elements evocative of the national character. The mascot of the 1984 Los Angeles Games was a bald eagle named Sam who wore a top hat covered with stars and stripes. In 1980, Moscow went with Misha, a bear, wrapped in the Olympic rings. Sydney settled on a trio of animals for the 2000 Games: a platypus, an echidna, and a kookaburra, all native to Australia.

Recently, designers have introduced a more diverse array of characters, some of them cartoon and video-game ready, all the better to make use of the multiple platforms where mascots now find a home. Atlanta’s 1996 mascot, Izzy, was an unidentifiable blue blob decorated with Olympic rings, running shoes, and a huge grin. For the 2008 Games, Beijing unveiled the Fuwa, five good luck dolls that represented animals, as well as natural elements and traditional Chinese blessings.

As for Wenlock and Mandeville, while they may be weird and somewhat unsettling walking around in crowds, their shiny online avatars are a tad more endearing. Their back story? As imagined by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, the one-eyed buddies are crafted from drops of steel used to build the Olympic stadium. Each has a Facebook page, Twitter account, and videos, presumably so kids can bond and interact with them. Whether the rest of the British populace will remains to be seen.

“Mascots can be engaging and appealing to younger audiences, but at the same time should kind of convey what the country is about and the Olympic spirit,’’ says Dean Whitney, principal brand strategist with Newton-based design firm Continuum. “I don’t feel like either of these are doing that too well.’’ We asked several other members of the local design community for their take on the mascots from an aesthetic and branding perspective.

Aaron Belyea,creative director, design studio Alphabet Arm, South End

“We appreciate the angle and the irreverent nature of the characters and that they’re going after the demographics of kids, but ultimately it didn’t pay off. There are so many different iterations of these characters, from the physical mascot costumes to the metallic-looking illustrations and animated version — they all take on different tones. But for me it gets so far away from what the spirit of the Olympics is, it feels like a wildly different brand to me. It doesn’t feel like sports.’’ GRADE C (A for effort, though)

John Brookhouse, graphic artist, global outdoor advertising, Clear Channel Outdoor, Stoneham

“I like them, but they are obviously aping the semi-subversive style of the designer Japanese toy market but with a side of Teletubbies. While popular with hipsters, I’m not sure that it will be that effective for them on a commercial level, since this aesthetic speaks directly to a very small audience. Cute and weird works for me as an artist, but I foresee most people not really getting it and sticking to Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob. I’m pretty sure most people watching sports don’t read Juxtapoz magazine.’’ GRADE C

Jessica Sun Lee, freelance art director and designer

“It feels like they’ve fallen off the mesmerizing amorphous monster bandwagon. I don’t associate them with athletics at all. Their bodies are mush. Maybe they have superpowers? They have a drug-induced wackiness about them that, in my opinion, isn’t a good thing to pair with something that’s supposed to be as sober and prestigious as the Olympics. They look like body pillows for the athletes to put between their legs at night to keep their backs straight.’’ GRADE C

Darren Crawforth, director of design, advertising, and marketing, for Modernista!, Downtown Boston

“The overall branding of the 2012 Olympics has been much talked about already, the logo being almost universally rubbished. Mandeville and Wenlock seem like just another two pieces to an already confused and disparate brand campaign. I don’t believe in focus groups and these poor creatures have been subjected to 40 of them over 18 months. What chance did they have? As with anything that’s designed by committee (look at the last 30 years of World Cup and Olympic logos) it fails to have one singular feature that is meaningful or memorable as it was designed to please absolutely everybody. Today, most mascots are for kids, to add a playful element to what might otherwise be a grown-up experience. Ultimately, they are to generate money from the sale of merchandise.’’ GRADE F

Michael Flint, owner, Web and graphic design firm Metropolis Creative, South End

“As a designer we design things for target audiences, so my big question is, who is the target audience for these mascots? Looking at the videos online — it appears that it’s younger people, getting them excited about the Olympics. So the people who are upset about the design aren’t the target audience. . . . [The live mascots] are like these weird, fat stuffed things. But if you look at the video and some of the background on the characters they’re actually kind of cool. There’s a whole story behind them. By the time 2012 rolls around moving media will be more accessible and the target audience will be seeing this as moving media. They’ll be seeing this as clips on their phones and whatever the next iPad is and computers in schools. I think these mascots need movement to work. In the backstory they’re saying these guys are two little drops of metal that came to life, and they did beat all odds. They became these animated creatures when they were destined to be just part of the metal of the Olympic stadium. That’s a childlike approach to the feeling that the Olympics have. But as a stand-alone visual element, they don’t work. They need that story.’’ GRADE B for children, D for adults

Nicole Anguish, Web and album art designer, daykamp creative, Waltham

“I’m not completely offended by them, but I’m a big fan of Youppi (former Montreal Expos mascot, now employed by the Canadiens), and no one knows what he is. They’re very reminiscent of the vinyl toy culture which is huge right now. The problem is that’s a very limited market. You need to have the right balance between something unique, but also something with broad appeal so kids will want them, and parents will buy them. These don’t have it. They’re just too off the wall. My 4-year-old might even be scared of the huge eye and lobster claws. I would have gone with something more suggestive of London. But would that have caused a stir? Probably not. The bottom line is they got people talking, and that’s the whole idea, to raise awareness. I didn’t even know that the Olympics had mascots and now I do.’’ GRADE C+

Boston Globe

Monday, May 24, 2010

State Of Unrest: A New Arizona Law Could Keep Musicians Out

The debate over immigration in the United States has been gradually reaching its inevitable crescendo during the past few years, but the passage of Senate Bill 1070 last month in Arizona may be the turning point that pushes the issue into a full-scale crisis. The bill, widely considered the toughest immigration law in the country, empowers state law enforcement to detain those whom there is a "reasonable suspicion" that they're in the country illegally and requires citizens to carry proof of their legal status at all times. Supporters of the bill see it as a way for the state to enforce federal laws that are already in the books. But critics of the bill say it renders Arizona a police state, one in which racial profiling has essentially been written into law. Their concern: How exactly does one inspire suspicion that they are an illegal immigrant aside from skin color?

When it comes to race relations, Arizona has historically been one of the most contentious battlegrounds in the country. During the Civil War, it was one of the only territories in the West to fight alongside the Confederacy, and the state didn't recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day until 1992--nearly a decade after it became a federal holiday. (In 1987, governor Evan Mecham rescinded the holiday as his first act in office.) During the next several years, widespread boycotts of the state stirred the controversy, most notably with the NFL relocating the site of that year's Super Bowl out of Arizona. Public Enemy commentated on the state in "By The Time I Get To Arizona" on 1991's Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black: "What's a smiling face when the whole state's racist? The cracker over there, he try to keep it yesteryear, the good ol' days the same ol' ways that kept us dyin'."

By comparison, the reaction to that bit of racially problematic law-making may eventually pale in comparison to the pending fallout from SB 1070. Seattle recently became the 11th city in the U.S. to endorse a full boycott of Arizona, cutting off future contracts with Arizona-based businesses and ending official travel to the state. Prominent members of the sports community like the NBA's Arizona Suns have voiced their displeasure (even wearing "Los Suns" jerseys during the conference semifinals in response to the bill), many members of the baseball community have called for MLB to relocate training facilities from the state and prominent members of the entertainment and music industry have taken an oppositional stance. Most notable among them so far are CYPRESS HILL, the veteran Latino rap group who canceled a planned concert in Arizona earlier this month in protest. They released a statement which reads:

"In a show of resistance to the criminalization of immigrant communities and in opposition to SB 1070, recently signed into Arizona legislation, Cypress Hill has elected to cancel a performance scheduled in Tucson for May 21, 2010. This decision was made in an effort to show support and solidarity with those, undocumented and otherwise, being directly affected by this unconstitutional 'law.' Cypress Hill recognizes those living in the struggle for their basic civil rights. Rise up!"

Tucson radio station La Caliente 102.1 FM also canceled its annual Tusa Festival where some of the biggest names in Mexican music were set to perform. Under the new law, suspicious parties are essentially considered illegal immigrants until proven otherwise. Since 30 percent of the state's population are of Hispanic or Latino origin, it has effectively criminalized entire swaths of the state's citizens. "I definitely think that the Cypress Hill cancelation is the harbinger of more stuff like this to come," says Curtis McCrary of the Rialto Theater in Tempe, the venue where the show was to take place. "I've been told of a few other cancellations over it and threatened cancellations [Los Lobos were going to cancel planned dates but later changed their minds], and some bands such as Stars have already made their intent to boycott public." Stars wrote in a tweet, "We love AZ. But until its racist new immigration law is repealed, Stars (and many others) will boycott this state."

This is a perilous development for anyone involved in planning events within the state. "For now, going forward I'm going to verify that a given band will not cancel before I confirm a show," says McCrary. "But who knows how many bands simply skip the state without making a public statement on it because they don't like SB 1070 and other recently passed insane Arizona legislation?" He's referring to the new law that prohibits classes in the Arizona school system from focusing on a specific race such as African American, Native American and Mexican American studies and also prohibits classes that advocate the overthrow of the American government.

One band who may consider avoiding the state altogether are El Paso, Texas, psych-prog outfit ZECHS MARQUISE--featuring bassist Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez, the brother of the Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. "I'm Puerto Rican, and I look like it," says Rodriguez-Lopez. "If I was visiting Arizona and the authorities wanted to, they could detain me because I might be illegal. It's left to their discretion. After that, it's their game, their rules until things get sorted out. I remember returning home one time from Mexico. Crossing the bridge over to the U.S., I was asked by customs where I was born and the brilliant customs officer didn't know Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth and that all its natives are U.S. citizens. After hassling me for the better part of an hour, I was let go." He also said, "Three-quarters of us in the band are Hispanic. Now we're a target. The less time we spend in that state the better."

Matt Sanchez of Massachusetts indie dance-pop band THE BLUE PAGES agrees it's an affront to musicians, saying, "I have been following the situation and am completely flabbergasted about the outcome." Sanchez's family is from Spain and Mexico. "It's most definitely a case of racial profiling. It infringes on the rights of all Americans and is therefore very unjust. It's a sad day when you can be walking down the street and asked for papers based off of what you look like." It's clear that a law like this might cause bands planning tour itineraries to think twice about stopping in Arizona. "As a touring musician, it's something that I would definitely take into consideration," says Sanchez. "We have two people in the band of Latin descent, and it would be very disturbing if we were stopped and asked to prove our American citizenship. I don't think this law would ever stop us from touring because music comes first, but it would sure put a damper on things. This would be something that I'd be thinking about in the back of my mind, and it's terrible that I can't be comfortable in my own country."

However, Sanchez doesn't think a boycott of the state will affect the kind of change necessary. "If we want change, we have to actively voice our opinions and demand reform," he says. "Maybe bands should urge all of their fans to write to their state demanding change. I know it seems like a letter won't do a lot, but millions of letters will create awareness, which will create change."

Juan Dies of Grammy- and Latin Grammy-nominated folk group SONES DE MEXICO says his group will play in Arizona whenever invited, although he is "very unhappy and embarrassed" about the legislation. "I don't want to punish all the people from Arizona on account of those who favored this legislation. Not all people in Arizona support this policy. The Arizona HB 2162 is evidence of it." That more recent bill revises the original SB 1070, essentially saying that law enforcement may only undertake determination of legal residency during the normal course of a routine violation such as a traffic stop.

It's important to point out that while much of the attention has been focused on Arizona, at least 10 other states including Texas, Nebraska, Utah and Colorado are considering enacting similar immigration laws. You can't boycott everywhere, and David Slutes of Tucson venue the Hotel Congress thinks it would do more harm than good. "Our feeling, even though I abhor the bill personally and as a business guy, is that the boycott is, particularly in our industry, not the way to address it," he says. "I would almost go so far as to say many artists are being lazy and self-serving to knee-jerk boycott our state when they can be much more effective coming to the state and energizing the base. It's just a horrendous bill and our soul is hurt by this. [Musicians] have a soapbox to stand on. If the toothbrush manufacturers convention doesn't come to the state, so be it. They aren't energizing the base. These acts have a pulpit, they have thousands of people watching and cheering them on and listening to what they have to say."

In Tucson, arguably the liberal enclave of Arizona, people are aggressively lobbying against the bill. In fact, the city council has filed suit against the state saying that the immigration law is unconstitutional, and will also be bad for the economy and result in millions of dollars in losses in potential lawsuits against the state. That's one reason why Slutes said his attempts to convince Los Lobos to reconsider their boycott of Arizona was heartening. He asked the band's management, "What are you trying to achieve here? You lose money by doing it. If your goal is to affect change in this, it's much better served by coming here. It's an election year and we need to get [the legislators who did this] out of office. Cypress Hill were given a very [similar] argument from Curtis at the Rialto trying to convince them to do [the same], but they considered and decided still to boycott. So it's splitting evenly."

Will state legislators actually care what rock musicians have to say? History shows that often isn't the case. Slutes says Arizona legislators would prefer no one came and spoke out. "Do you think for a second that the authors of this bill want Latino bands coming to the state making all this news? Of course they don't. [The lawmakers] love that they're boycotting. They don't want [the artists] coming here. They'd rather have the supporter impoverished and unenergized."

Members of Canadian punk band FUCKED UP think a boycott is counterproductive as well. Vocalist Damian Abraham took issue with their countrymen Stars' boycott announcement in an op-ed piece for Stereogum. "This law is purported to be a way of addressing what is a perceived to be a lacking in enforcement of immigration laws," he wrote. "But it is felt by many--myself included--to be a massively flawed piece of legislation that is, at its core, out and out racism." He thinks a band boycotting the state makes an assumption about their fans that they support the law. "There's such a huge number of people opposed to this law within Arizona that by trying to force a change through a boycott, the side-effect is punishing these people. These people need support now more then ever."

Fucked Up recently performed in Phoenix and enlisted the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths to provide an information table at their show. NMD is dedicated to helping prevent fatalities in crossings along the U.S./Mexico border. "It's easy to boycott a place you don't go to very often anyway," says Sean Bonnette of Phoenix folk-punks ANDREW JACKSON JIHAD. "It's easy to say you're boycotting and just skip it from New Mexico to California to make a grand political stand. I think indie bands should come to Arizona more. People should move here and vote. That would make a real difference. When Fucked Up just came here, they got a hold of No More Deaths. That's way more productive than just not coming."

AJJ are one of 17 bands to contribute a song to A Line In The Sand, a compilation of protest songs compiled by the Phoenix New Times. Music editor Martin Cizmar says the album serves to show the diversity of the state's music scene, and that not everyone supports the bill. "The thing that I'm worried about is that [the bill] makes us look like a bunch of rednecks and people aren't going to want to play here," he says. "They're going to look at their tour schedule and it leaves a bitter taste in the their mouth. It gives them a bad idea of what Arizona is all about."

Another problem is the idea of bands coming through giving Arizona citizens a lecture on why they are misguided. Cizmar says this isn't necessary. "When John McCain was running against Obama, [during every show] I saw in fall 2008, bands took a couple minutes to chastise McCain and talk about how great Obama is to an audience where 90 percent of the people already agreed with them. Why did they feel the need to do that? I don't know, but it's what they did. This is going to be like that times 10."

Another artist inspired to release a song in opposition to this law is New York City-based electronic artist COSTANZA. Her video for "Just Another Alien" is a recitation of the questions taken from the U.S. DS-156 Immigration Form. Put in this context they seem ominous and threatening.

"I am an alien," says Costanza. "I went through a whole bunch of papers to get my visa. I'm very close emotionally to the immigration issue, not only because I'm an alien in the U.S., but I'm from Italy where we have a lot of big problems with immigration. When this law [was passed], I was very touched by it, so I decided to release this video not so much as a protest against the law, but because I feel like we need to speak up."

While there have been vocal opponents to the law, it still definitely has its supporters. "Let there be no doubt that this state has its share of utter lunatics," says the Rialto's McCrary. "Unfortunately, many of them have managed to get elected to the legislature." AJJ's Bonette hates the message all of this sends to the rest of the country. "It's so embarrassing that Arizona has pretty much proved itself to pretty much be the most racist state in the nation," he says.

Costanza is more worried about the spreading of this type of law. "If this thing stays in Arizona, it's bad. But if it comes in other states it will be huge," she says. "It's not something that's just a little law, that any alien can be stopped without papers. It's about privacy, it's about culture. It's an excuse to talk about something bigger. Let's talk about what's going on. The concept of the United States was born on immigration. I'm very little, just an artist in the middle of Brooklyn, but I think the revolutions of culture, especially in civil rights issues, start from the small movements."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unhappy Birthday

Michael Brodeur at the Phoenix wrote this piece about my Morrissey tribute this week: 

The lines sag heavy and deep for Moz

It’s hard to believe that Morrissey is turning 51 this Saturday. It seems like only yesterday that I was huddled in the corner of my room, staring listlessly out the window through tear-smeared glasses, absently singing along to “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” and wondering when my life would finally show my heart a modicum of mercy. . . . Oh wait. That was yesterday.

For those of us who allowed this creepy old man into our lives at a tender age (I was 13; it was Bona Drag), there’s something about the Mozzer that never quite goes away. Luke O’Neil — erstwhile singer of disbanded Boston angst-pop heartthrobs the Good North — knows this feeling well.

“Morrissey said something about the New York Dolls once,” O’Neil tells me. “ ‘Some bands grab you and they never let you go, and no matter what they do, they can never let you down.’ Aside from the fact that the New York Dolls suck, he’s basically talking about himself — except for Maladjusted.”

And he’s right, Maladjusted did suck — but also, over the quarter-century that’s gone by since the Smiths dropped The Smiths, Morrissey has garnered the kind of unwaveringly faithful fanbases typically reserved for divas like Babs and Cher. Inaccessibly cool, inconsolably blue, irrepressibly witty — he’s like an existentially tormented Ferris Bueller. Sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebs, dickheads — they all think he’s a righteous dude.

“There are always going to be sad young literary types,” O’Neil points out, “and they want everyone else to know about how very sad and literary they are — mostly so they can have sad young literary sex. Declaring your allegiance to Morrissey is a convenient shorthand for that. And unlike a lot of signifiers people use to advertise their affectations, it helps that Morrissey happens to be a genius.”

In recognition of all this, O’Neil has pulled together a grand birthday celebration at Great Scott, with a bill of devoted Moz fans paying tribute to how old he is while trying to forget how old they are. The bill includes the Honors (who killed it as the Smiths for a Halloween show last year at the Pill), Jay Marsh of Taxpayer, Jake Zavracky of Cyanide Valentine, Ad Frank of . . . Ad Frank, Jesse Duquette of Emergency Music, and O’Neil himself with friends from the Information and the Sheila Divine banding up as Unhappy Birthday. O’Neil forecasts a healthy helping of Smiths singles, B-sides, latter-day solo hits, and a “surprising amount of Viva Hate.”

“We probably should have set it up where we old dudes did all old fat Morrissey and the young guys did the young stuff,” he adds, “but that sounds like a lot of planning ahead of time.”

With any luck, these tributes will temper their accuracy with mercy — which is to say, Morrissey’s live shows of late don’t exactly have people flinging their proverbial gladiolas. But as usual, a true appreciation of Morrissey is all about the numbing powers of the snows of yesteryear — the balm of better, sadder times. O’Neil suggests that one cannot come to Morrissey late in life, that the built-in melodrama of youth is essential to forging a connection. But youth has nothing to do with devoted Moz fans’ ability to bear his burdens long into our own bleak, lonely futures.

“Every song we’re doing should be capable of giving at least someone in the audience a chill and something to cry about while they’re dancing,” O’Neil assures me. “That’s pretty much the whole point. Unless I fuck it all up — in which case, I’ll just have something else to be miserable about for a while.”
THE HONORS + UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY + JAY MARSH + AD FRANK + JAKE ZAVRACKY + DJS MICHAEL V, DAVE DUNCAN | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | May 22 at 9 pm | $7 | 617.566.9014 or

Monday, May 17, 2010

Band Of Horses

Band of Horses
Infinite Arms
Bands jumping to a major label usually become more commercial, not less, right? It’s painful to say, but Band of Horses’ third release makes one long for the proverbial record-label suit saying, “I don’t hear a single.’’ After success with powerful tear-jerkers like “Funeral’’ and “Is There a Ghost,’’ Band of Horses has veered hard off the commercial highway onto a dusty, rural service road. It’s a detour that necessitates a stark reduction in speed and power, which isn’t a bad idea considering the band’s music has been licensed into ubiquity through TV and advertisements. The quieter, largely acoustic, choral-country approach here shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. This sort of sunset-on-the-prairie folk has always been in the band’s mix, but it’s previously been broken up by uplifting guitar phosphorescence and singalong choruses. The honky-tonk slap and sweet harmonies of “Compliments’’ and “Laredo’’ and the stam-peding “NW Apt.’’ provide a charge, while “Dilly’’ is a breezy, light-FM ride. Here’s hoping this flirtation with the mainstream doesn’t last long for a usually exceptional band. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Drinking in Lowell's past

Get an inside look at the architecture of a classic mill town and then visit some of Jack Kerouac’s favorite watering holes


It’s easy to take the artistry of our cities’ architecture and the history that comes with it for granted. We shouldn’t, especially in some of the great old classic mill towns. For all of those times when you’ve walked past a really old, interesting looking building and wondered what it looked like inside, Doors Open Lowell is your answer. It’s also a free event as part of National Preservation Month.

“It’s our premiere architecture design and historic preservation event,’’ says Stephen Stowell of the Lowell Historic Board. “It’s a chance to get into the buildings and see how they’re designed and being reused. A lot of them have limited public access, and you kind of wonder what’s going on behind those walls. It’s a chance to expose the public to rehabilitated buildings.’’

One of those most interesting buildings on display this year is called Tremont Yard. A site that dates to the middle of the 1850s, the building was largely underwater when it was associated with water power production in the Lowell mills. “What you can see in there are tunnels and stonework. It almost gives you the impression of a subterranean Roman ruin or something like that. In the 1850s it was a pioneering hydraulic turbine testing location. You have this modern office building on top, these subterranean ruins, I think people are gonna be really curious about what’s going on down there,’’ says Stowell.

Doors Open Lowell, Fri. 6-9 p.m. and Sat. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 3-6 p.m. Lowell National Historic Park Visitor Center, 246 Market St., Lowell. 978-446-7200.


Of course no trip through Lowell history would be complete without a mention of the city’s favorite son Jack Kerouac. Since Kerouac drank his way through large swaths of the area, there are more than a few bars where you can hoist one alongside his ghost, like the Worthen House Cafe.

The oldest restaurant in Lowell, it was built in 1834 and became a tavern in 1898. Edgar Allan Poe is said to have stopped in here as well.The tin ceilings, belt-linked fan system, and bar all date back to the early days.

For dinner consider skipping over to Ricardo’s Cafe Trattoria. In an earlier incarnation as Nicky’s this was one of the Beat writer’s favorite watering holes. The room has quite a lengthy history.

“Going way back to the late 1800s it was a house of ill repute,’’ says owner Richard Rourke. “Then it became a bar that was frequented by Kerouac. Jack spent a lot of time and did a lot of his creative thinking here. I believe the soul of Kerouac still exists.’’ There’s a sign above the bar that reads “Jack lives here.’’ History lives here too.

The Worthen House Cafe, 141 Worthen St., Lowell. 978-459-0300. Ricardo’s Cafe Trattoria, 110 Gorham St., Lowell. 978-453-2777.

Boston Globe

Monday, May 10, 2010

Been Caught Stealing: One "Hacker" Exposed How Insecure "Secure" Promo Services Are

The music industry has taken a lot of hits in recent years, particularly as digital music has become a dominant force. As a result, it's now the norm for albums to find their way onto file-sharing and torrent sites well before their release date. Naturally, the industry considers this a huge detriment to potential sales. There are a number of ways that record labels have sought to stem that tide of free-flowing music online, through watermarking systems and the like meant to discourage piracy, but there has never been a completely secure process for delivering pre-release material to critics. From the looks of things, there might never be.

Since launching in 2003, Play MPE, a digital delivery system that enables invited parties to access watermarked files, seemed like the best bet. Billed as the most secure system available, it's used by major labels like Universal Music Group and Warner Bros. and indies like Epitaph and Bridge Nine to get their pre-release albums into the hands of tastemakers. Long considered the figurative Titanic of secure content delivery, the company finally encountered its iceberg. According to reports, late last month a hacker posing as a music journalist was able to access the system and found his way to a number of albums from high-profile bands that he was never intended to receive. He then leaked those records to the online public. The casual manner in which this individual strolled through the digital gates of Play MPE sent shockwaves through the industry, and it seems to be yet another blow in the inevitable cycle of new technologies being exposed as vulnerable against the onslaught of fervent music piracy. There have been many stories online alluding to the alleged events behind this breach. But what actually happened?

"A European user impersonated an Australian music reviewer and was granted an account by our partner in Australia," says Steve Vestergaard, CEO of Destiny Media Technologies, the company that owns Play MPE. "Between the labels and ourselves, we add over 200 new users per week, so occasionally this happens." While the hacker was able to spread the music illegally, he wasn't able to do so anonymously. "Our proprietary watermarking security worked as intended," says Vestergaard, who also says that previous stories written about the incident weren't entirely true. "He was identified and his account disabled within a half-hour of his upload to other users against his license agreement. He's been identified based on our security logs and because there is an active industry investigation, we're not able to comment further, except to say that you're the first one to contact us to verify the story and that stories being carried elsewhere attribute leaks to our system that didn't come from us."

The labels with music involved are now wrapped up in the investigation, he says, and Play MPE has shared forensic evidence against the alleged hacker. Due to the ongoing investigation, Vestergaard declined to comment on the steps the labels plan to take now.

So how did the breach occur? "We offer both locked access which restricts playback through our proprietary Mac/PC/iPhone players, secure access through our partners (Mediabase, RCS, internal radio network systems) and unlocked access through a direct web browser interface," Vestergaard says. "If the labels grant export rights, the song is available in unlocked form in the web browser system. The user was able to access music through the unlocked system, through an exploit, which he did not have access rights to, but that content was watermarked to identify him. The exploit was fixed at the same time his access was disabled."

An explanation from the "hacker."

A watermark, commonly used on important documents including passports and bank notes, is a recognizable pattern that can be obvious or hidden to prove the authenticity of the document. A digital watermark works in a similar way. "Music is always encoded with a proprietary watermark, which survives on air broadcast, filtering, compression and conversion to other formats, but which doesn't show up in spectral analysis and which is completely inaudible," says Vestergaard. "The technology allows any leaks to be forensically traced to the source." Although he declined to confirm the number or names of the albums that were leaked due to the ongoing investigation, he says that this is the first time a user has accessed unauthorized music on the system.

All of the labels and bands alleged to have been affected by the leak contacted for this story declined to comment. One of the reasons for that, says Cathy Pellow of Sargent House--the label behind acts like Rx Bandits, Good Old War and Omar Rodríguez-López--is because for a label, sometimes ignoring a rumored leak is the best strategy. "I don't want to answer you because I don't want more people to know it's leaked," she says.

For people in the technology world, this sort of breach involving Play MPE is an inevitability. "To say I'm not surprised is the understatement of the century," says Scott Steinberg, head of high tech consulting firm TechSavvy and AP's resident tech writer. "I'm stunned that it hasn't happened sooner." He says that any security system, no matter how high level or how complex, is subject to human error. "If you look at the supposed facts in this case, essentially what [Play MPE] had was ostensibly one of the most secure systems in the world, and yet via social engineering and the ancient art of bullshit as we used to call it back in the day, an individual was able to gain access to the system and then by simply changing the URL, he realized he could procure copies of additional albums that he wasn't intended to receive."

The bigger lesson this incident points to is that there is always going to be a way to work around security systems. "When you're dealing with digital content, no matter how secure you think it's going to be, there's always a loophole," says Steinberg. "There's always a way to crack the safe. So it's inevitable in my mind that anything that is made accessible to any group of individuals beyond a tiny small core is without a doubt going to leak. It's just a matter of when."

The interesting part about this break-in is the ease with which it was accomplished. To call what the perpetrator did "hacking" isn't quite accurate, says Kaiser Wahab of Wahab & Medenica, a New York law firm that regularly deals with technology and media issues and run the business media blog "This guy is not really a hacker in a traditional sense," says Wahab. "A hacker is someone who tinkers with or undermines some kind of software or security apparatus--people who can break into things. This guy is more of a prankster. He didn't break any super-secure systems. He just saw that the URL was a database query and just flipped the numbers. It was like, 'Oh, a new track.'"

The problem is that Play MPE exists exactly to make something like this difficult. "This is a company whose job it is to prevent this from happening. They get paid to do this," says Wahab. "The Motion Picture Association of America does the same thing for the Academy Awards. They have these specially encrypted super-secret briefcase-with-a-handcuff type of scenarios when they deliver DVDs. What happens? They're leaked. Leaks are always going to happen."

Steinberg says that leaks like the Play MPE breach happen commonly but this one only received media attention due to its magnitude. "Is it comically inept when you see banks lose millions of addresses and governments leave laptops with top secret data lying around?" he asks. "We like to assume that the gatekeepers are all smarter than we are, that someone is in charge. But they get sleepy, they get tired, someone in IT forgets to put up a password. It's human nature. No matter how many levels of checks and balances, inevitably there's always going to be a glitch in the system."

The public at large is savvier than they've ever been, and more empowered. "We have to assume that the collective brainpower of the public at large, even when it comes to things like security, is smarter than we are," says Wahab. "Their time and resources are literally unlimited." Taking that as a given, it still behooves the industry to try to discourage this sort of piracy. But the options for using the law to prevent further digital breaches are not always clear. Because what was done here was not technically "hacking," the labels probably won't be able to go after the perpetrator with any kind of anti-hacking or encryption laws like those outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act dealing specifically with the manipulation of digital rights management rules. But there is an issue with regard to terms of service. "That's an argument that Play MPE is making," says Wahab. "Any time you sign up to use any website, you agree to their terms of service. It usually says things like we can cut you off at any time and we can take certain actions if you violate these terms of service. So they can try to pursue on a contractual theory, saying you and I had a contract, you were supposed to play nice but you did not. That may be true, but if they go to court, I'm not sure what the damages will be or, in other words, what the court will say this guy actually did."

Play MPE aren't necessarily the ones who have claims against this fraudulent user. It's the copyright holders, the publishers, labels and artists who do. "Somebody has the copyright to these songs," says Wahab. "This guy, just like anybody, did not have the right to take a track and distribute it on the 'net. I don't think it's Play MPE who has the right to pursue that." In almost any country, be it Australia--where this user was pretending to be from--or the U.S. or the U.K., all of which have similar copyright laws, distributing copyrighted material is illegal. The place where this case gets complicated is that the user in question entered into the contract with Play MPE under false pretenses. "It's interesting to say, 'Oh, okay. You pretended to be a journalist but you're not, so we're gonna enforce the contract that you had no interest in following because the whole thing was a sham."

What court the case ends up in will likely dictate the consequences. A pro-business court, one not sympathetic to the freedom of information movement, or the "copyleft," will likely side with the music industry. Although since the perpetrator is rumored to be a teenager in Finland, the international scope of the issue complicates matters. It depends on the terms of service for any given website. Some, like Facebook, say when you sign up that you agree that if there is a lawsuit it will be conducted in the United States under Unites States law. "It depends on which country is going to go with it," says Wahab. "Where did the infringement even happen? If we have to fight a case in Finland, do we get to use American law? Maybe the infringement happened there, or because it went all over the net do we get to pick the one we like?"

That's the inherent issue in internet cases like this--the lack of specific geography. The global scope of music sharing makes it a difficult problem to pin down. "Generally, most albums leak before release. It's not always clear who's doing the leaking, or how," says Matt Rosoff author of Digital Noise, a blog about music and technology. He thinks it's unlikely something like this is going to change the way labels go about distributing music. "I think labels still want to get music out to interested parties digitally ahead of release, and leaks are probably an acceptable and manageable cost. Watermarking is already used, so it's fairly easy to trace leaks back to their source. It's possible that labels and artists might stop pre-releases in some cases, but only for acts that have devoted fans who are likely to buy the album without much advance marketing."

Some, however, see the system as overall effective. Mark Kates of Fenway Recordings, the management company behind bands like MGMT and Saves The Day, says security hasn't been an issue with albums he's worked as of late. "The system works because people realize that watermarks actually work. It's a weird thing, because on a certain level it's almost like the honor system." Being too protective of your music creates a fundamental contradiction in the interest of artists and labels. "At some point, the person you're protecting against, the intended listener, is the same person who has to have access to the audio," says Rosoff. A"t that point, there's always going to be a way to make a recording. The only solution would be to have no advance copies, release music to everybody at the same time. Some folks have tried that. This could work with certain artists whose fans are likely to buy whatever they put out. The problem comes when you're trying to break a lesser-known act, or hype an act without an organic fanbase, the old pump-and-dump method of music marketing."

Some artists actually consider the leaking of their record to be a boon to generating interest. "From my point of view, the leaking of tracks online is an essential part of the new music industry--especially in establishing an artist," says Rene Symonds, manager of New York production duo the Knocks. "From the point of view of an act with an eagerly anticipated pop album hoping to shift millions of units, it's a total pain in the ass. But what better way to break cool, credible, organically self-developed acts than by taking control of the leak and using it to our advantage?" His partner, Ben Ruttner, agrees. "It's due to the internet and being able to 'leak' tracks that we have built a fanbase and a following. If we had to wait on official releases or a major label, no one would know who we are." Justin Boreta of Los Angeles electronic act the Glitch Mob sees the positive side of leaks as well. "We fully embrace the leak," he says. "If our fans get hold of the album before the release date and are excited by it and want to share it with their friends, that's a beautiful thing."

That may be an outlook that more and more artists are going to have to embrace as the idea of music being free becomes even more prevalent than it already is. "Bands are helped and hurt by leaks," says Pellow of Sargent House. "For some bands, it's not helpful to have their record released so far in advance. I didn't give a shit when [Fang Island's self-titled debut] leaked because no one knew who they were, and if it hadn't leaked, no one would have found out. It actually really helped that band because it was a good album and people started talking about how good they were. Usually people who download leaks weren't gonna pay for it anyway. As long as they like the album, it can really benefit a band." From a marketing and publicity standpoint, a label will often have to change their release strategy once a record is leaked. "You change your strategy depending on how bad [the leak] is," says Pellow. "I don't think any album worth anything in the first place doesn't leak. Ultimately if there are people interested in your band, [the album is] gonna leak."

Steinberg says that's the lesson everyone should take from this incident. "I think we should all plan for these items, whether it's songs, video games, movies or TV shows to leak. There's a fine line between piracy and viral marketing, as we like to call it in this business. Maybe if there's a way, instead of selling a CD as a packaged good--a single, static experience that doesn't change--so if someone happens to leak my track, they just got one-twelfth of my final album. Maybe the better way would be to offer legitimate customers bonus content that they can access online on the back end. Maybe that's through a serial number, maybe it's going online and the disc registers and speaks with a remote server. Then the buyer gets extra tracks, remixes, photos, videos, updates and other exclusive content. Then suddenly, we've completely switched the paradigm. Those tracks that leaked actually serve to build anticipation and hype. Pass-along actually becomes a very powerful marketing tool. Instead of sitting on our eggs and worrying that a fox is gonna get in the hen house, we should assume one will. But even if he or she does, it just serves as a teaser of what's to come. If we offer more value on the back-end, we can use that leak to build buzz, and in many ways it can be more beneficial if we sat around praying and keeping our fingers crossed."

In other words, the horse is out of the barn when it comes to the free flow of digital music and there's probably no way to stop it. "I'm taking a very unpopular position as an attorney," says Wahab. "They expect me to say that rule of law should conquer all, but I think the answer is no." There are legislative frameworks that could make this a more palatable situation for everybody and deter people from doing things like this. "But to say outright, 'Well, the law says if you do this you're going to go to jail.' Really? You're gonna criminalize some of this behavior? I don't think that's going to have a positive effect. I think that may work for a certain segment, but I don't think that's the way you want to go about it. There's a cultural war here. The more you try to make the law sharper and more aggressive, the more you're going to have young people taking it on as sort of their revolution--rightly and wrongly."

Information may end up being free in most users' minds, and that may be a reality that artists have to face, but it still doesn't make it just. "Let me put it to you this way, if you distribute musically illegally, you are directly taking money out of the artists' pockets. You are stealing, there is no two ways about it," says Steinberg. "But let's be realistic about this whole thing. It's like trying to push back the ocean by flailing away with a bucket. It's just become so widespread, so casually expected, so blasé. It's human nature. I'm not going to tell you we should lynch every teenager who decides he or she wants to save 10 bucks on the latest All-American Rejects album. I don't think that's doing anyone a service."

Wahab agrees. "Artists need to eat," he says. "I don't agree that content is free. That's stupid. I'm also of the mind that the legislative apparatus is not the only thing or the best thing. In America, we have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and it's a crime if you break it. There was a DVD encryption code for movies [but] somebody figured it out, posted it on YouTube and people were making songs out of it. It was amazing and crazy at the same time. How do you stop that? They all knew what the law was. They didn't care. Are you gonna sue all of them? It's the pied piper syndrome. Are you gonna send them all into the sea? You have to adjust the culture to make it clearer that it's wrong morally and economically. You're gonna have to try to be more creative, and I don't think using the law to become sharper is gonna help."

You can't legislate against the desire for being ahead of the curve, or to accumulate scene points by possessing an album months before release. That's the motivation that is the driving force behind most leaks, says Pellow. "I think what people aren't talking about in the conversation about leaks is that the true reason people leak records in the first place is to show off. If it's the young writer who is writing his blurb for whoever and he gets that thrill of, 'I have these records that no one else has,' he or she can't help but brag about it. Then their friend says, 'Dude, just let me have it. I'm not gonna do anything.' Then it goes down the line."

So it isn't surprising to Pellow that it was a teenager behind the Play MPE break. "It's all a quest to brag that they got the record they weren't supposed to have," she says. "I know for a fact that the people leaking records are teenagers and kids writing blogs. I don't want to say mean things about blogs, because I love anybody who's passionate about music. I just think it's really sad that the people who are most passionate about it think giving away a band's entire album is a good way to help the artist. A good way to help a band is to say, 'This is a great album. You can hear tracks here. I highly recommend you go get this album.' [They shouldn't say,] 'Here's the whole album, now you don't need to [buy it].' You're giving away the album and you're bragging. You're giving away people's property to have people come look at your opinion."

Why is it that releases from popular rock bands like Nickelback don't leak, she asks? "No one gives a fuck about bragging about having Nickelback records. But, man, if you have the new Animal Collective or whatever, and you have something you know that will get you cool points, you'll leak the shit out of it."

The only way to avoid a leak, she says, is to release a record out of nowhere with no advance notice like Sargent House does with Omar Rodríguez-López's solo output. "We just release them. We don't need to do the old-fashioned system. I call them surprise releases. All of Omar's fans and Mars Volta fans have started to get into this new thing where they just watch Twitter, because on a random Wednesday night, I'll say, 'We just put out a new album. Wanna hear it?' And they all freak. Everyone gets to hear it at the same time. No one got it special. I wish I could do it with every record I have."

Going forward it may become a more likely release scenario. When the only way to prevent a pre-release leak is to make sure no one has it, the entire way music is covered in the press may have to be altered. "You compromise your album with leaks in an effort to potentially get a review," she says. "It's kind of not worth risking."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mad about mod

Take in a hip film at the MFA, and then swing over to Allston to dance the night away

Remember that whole mod revival thing that came around the turn of the millennium, when 1960s fashion, music, and scooters were all the rage at dance clubs around the country. For a lot of people it never went away. “We Are the Mods’’ (pictured), the debut film from director E.E. Cassidy, playing tonight at the Museum of Fine Arts as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival (, tells a coming-of-age story set amid the mod scene. The name of the film will sound familiar to fans of the 1973 film “Quadrophenia,’’ in which it served as a slogan for a group of alienated British teenagers.

“The film is set in contemporary Los Angeles and we actually shot the club scene during a mod night here in Los Angeles,’’ Cassidy says. “It turned out to be one of my favorite scenes in the film. Much of the mod subculture is centered on music and dancing. I wanted to make sure that this was depicted authentically and given its place to shine in the film. ‘We Are the Mods’ is very much about pleasure and desire.’’

“We Are the Mods,’’ 6:30 p.m. $8-$10. Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston. 617-267-9300.

If the characters in this film were around here today, there is no question where they’d go for a drink: the Pill at Great Scott. You should hop over to Allston afterward yourself. (Vespa not required).

Take a look online at some of the posters for the long-running Brit pop and indie dance night. Most are of mod girls in vintage 1960s dresses. The latest with a Vespa-draped girl looks like it might have been pulled right from Cassidy’s film. “The Pill has always been tied into mod culture,’’ says DJ Michael V. “Any girl worth her fashion sense will always look good in her little mod skirt.’’

“The music lately has veered more into modern sounds, but at any moment we can bust out the old stuff, the Kinks, the Zombies, the Creation.’’ Tonight they plan on focusing more on older mod, soul, and British classics, he says.

“British culture really clings to its mod identity. The Brit pop stuff and electronic music we play all have a mod element to it. It’s always been a part of the British culture and embedded in our culture because it’s the Pill. Mod is like this battle cry.’’

The Pill. 21+. 9 p.m. $5. Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave., Allston. 617-566-9014.

Boston Globe

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A taste of relaxation

Bartenders pour it on for mom’s special day

Taking mom out for brunch on Mother’s Day is a fine way to let her know you love her. But perhaps what she’d really enjoy is a night out at a chic boite and a tasty cocktail? Either way, she’s sure to appreciate the pampering, after all, being a mom is stressful business. We queried bartenders about what they’re serving for thirsty moms this weekend and beyond. 

Kate Moore , sommelier, L’Espalier
The Rhubarb Cobbler (Hendrick’s gin, spiced rhubarb simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, rosé, soda, $12). “This cocktail is really about the senses, trying to involve smell, sight, even touching the glass. It’s a balance of what is seasonal and local and delicious: flavors of rhubarb poached in a beautiful syrup of spices and an aromatic gin naturally infused with rose and cucumber, as well as the season’s first rosé from Provence.’’ 774 Boylston St., Boston. 617-262-3023.
Lynn Bennett , bar manager, Bambara
Flowering Mimosa (St. Germain, champagne, hibiscus flower, lime juice, $9). “This drink is seasonal, refreshing and light. St. Germain and champagne together is a favorite combination of mine. It’s effervescent and sweet without being too overpowering, and an ideal way to start any Mother’s Day.’’ (Available only on Mother’s Day.) 25 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge. 617-868-4444.

Wioletta Zywina , owner, Da Vinci Ristorante
Isabella d’Esta (Christiana vodka, limoncello, fresh mint, Prosecco, $12). “The Isabella d’Esta is the perfect drink for Mother’s Day because it pays homage to one of the leading women of the Italian Renais sance era who also mothered eight children. The drink is on the sweeter side, but it is very crisp and refreshing with the incorporation of the fresh mint and Prosecco.’’ 162 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-350-0007.

Steve Dubinsky, general manager, Aquitaine Dedham
Mere Douce (Grey Goose La Poire, Mathilde peach liqueur, peach puree, champagne, $11.50). “Mere douce means ‘sweet mom’ in French. It was created by our resident mom bartender who has twin 1-year-olds for a fellow mom who came in wanting something sweet and summery. It’s available only on the special Mother’s Day menu, but it can be made by request on other days.’’ Aquitaine Dedham, 500 Legacy Place, Dedham. 781-471-5212.

Brian Piccini , owner, dbar
Cucumber Gin Rose Blossom (Hendrick’s gin, Framboise and fresh sours, sparkling wine, served with a long stem rose on the side, $9.50) “The unique, soft, rose petal and cucumber infused Hedrick’s gin with its unusual array of botanicals is the perfect grain spirit that we brilliantly interpret by adding dbar’s fresh Framboise and sours with a touch of sparkling wine for uplifting Mom on her day off.’’ (Available only on Mother’s Day.) 1236 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester. 617-265-4490.

Christina Williams , bartender, BiNA Osteria
Mommy Dearest (Prosecco, Framboise, muddled raspberries, $12). “For many families celebrating Mother’s Day means taking mom out to brunch, because, let’s face it, no one else can cook breakfast quite like she can. Since brunch tends to be on the earlier side of the day, we wanted to create a light champagne cocktail type drink. The sparkling wine creates a great effervescent base to the cocktail, allowing the muddled raspberries and Framboise liqueur to float delicately in the flute and create a fun, pink color.’’ 581 Washington St., Boston. 617-956-0888.

Jack Huang , owner, Basho Japanese Brasserie
Cucumber Spa Martini (Thatcher’s organic cucumber liquor, vodka, sake, mint, and lime, $12). “If the ideal Mother’s Day involves a day at the spa and a cocktail with family, Basho’s Cucumber Spa Martini combines the best of both worlds. The soothing, mild flavor of cucumber carefully balances out the vodka in this martini, as well as the sake, which is our signature Japanese touch. Add fresh lime and mint and this cocktail is a natural spring drink.’’ 1330 Boylston St., Boston. 617-262-1338 

Michael FitzPatrick, bar manager, Tremont 647
Mommy’s Medicine (Monmousseau Rosé, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, fresh strawberries, $9). “Mommy’s Medicine is a lifetime achievement award to all the hard-working mommies out there for a job well done. This glass of unconditional love is a reflection of what I love about my mom, a mixture of her genuine sweetness with her effervescent personality that’s spicier than a gingersnap. And for mothers-to-be we will have the Maternity Leave which is a nonalcoholic version with AJ Stephens Ginger Beer, fresh strawberry, and lime for $4.’’ 647 Tremont St., Boston. 617-266-4600.

Sala Chnioui, director of food and beverage, Stanhope Grille at the Back Bay Hotel
Orange Mojito (Bacardi Orange rum, muddled oranges, limes, mint, and sugar over crushed ice, $14). “After all the hard work that moms do day in and day out, why wouldn’t they appreciate something handmade especially for them? The Orange Mojito is a light, fun, and fresh cocktail. Mother’s Day is the unofficial kick-off to summer, and this special concoction will remind every mother that the sun is just around the corner. ’’ 350 Stuart St., Boston. 617-532-3827.
Mike Stankovich , bar manager, the Biltmore
La Rosa Margarita (Gran Centenario Rosangel hibiscus infused tequila, Grand Marnier, fresh lemon, agave nectar, rosewater, Rosé, $8). “This drink works well because the subtle hibiscus flavor of the tequila blends well with the complexity of the rosewater. Then after those flavors, you get the nice zest of fresh lemon. And Mother’s Day this year follows closely after Cinco de Mayo, so the margarita aspect of the drink is nice, as is the sparkling wine aspect for our Mother’s Day brunch.’’ (Available through Wednesday.) 1205 Chestnut St., Newton Upper Falls. 617-527-2550.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Hold Steady

One of the risks in listening too attentively to a lyricist like Craig Finn is that his songs are charged with so many beer-sodden maxims you can get a contact buzz rummaging around for a sort of thesis. “You could probably do anything if you could just get yourself right,’’ he sings on “Soft in the Center,’’ the standout track from the Brooklyn band’s new album. Elsewhere he warbles, “We’re good guys, but we can’t be good our whole lives.’’

Talk about playing to your crowd. “Heaven Is Whenever’’ is the type of self-deprecating solipsism tailor-made for fans of barroom rock still waiting around for Huey Lewis to finish an MFA program. They’re the people who’ve elevated the Hold Steady to “only band that matters now’’ status. In this reliably anthemic package it’s also unabashed fun.
The departure of keyboard player Franz Nicolay prior to the recording of this album sent fanboys into a fit. But while his absence is felt in the guitar-forward arrangements, “Heaven’’ is yet another collection of loquaciously gritty pop-rock songs about bad girls and the bad boys who love them. Finn’s dexterous, shredded croon is in top form on “Hurricane J’’ and “The Weekenders,’’ songs that build up a gang-vocal momentum. Burners like “Rock Problems’’ continue to repackage classic-rock populism for the boozy bibliophile set.
With “Heaven Is Whenever,’’ it seems unlikely that the Hold Steady will again change how we talk about modern rock, but when a band has already framed the parameters of the debate, it doesn’t necessarily have to.