Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tequila Terroir

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal

This Cinco de Mayo, skip the pitchers of margaritas and school yourself on the distinct regions of Mexico's finest spirit

More discerning tequila drinkers know it comes from the agave plant and can recognize the difference between the major types: the unaged blancos; reposados, which are aged in oak between two months and a year; and añejos, which spend between one and three years in barrels. But more advanced types treat it like wine, digging into its appellation of origin and learning about how a variety of factors like soil and weather will effect the final product. You could spend years studying, but if you just want to choose one to sip this Cinco de Mayo, here's a cheat sheet to the major regions.

JALISCO LOWLANDS: Most of the agave used in tequila is grown in the state of Jalisco, in or around the city of Tequila and a few others like Amatitán. Here the volcanic soil imparts a spicier and earthy quality as in the finish of 1) Herradura Reposado ($50), or the small batch 2) Casa Dragones Joven ($275). Lowlands tequila usually has more citrus notes.

Jalisco Highlands: Because this region gets less rain than the lowlands, and the solid red clay soil makes the agave roots work harder to get down to water, the plant gathers a lot of minerals. The result is a richer product high in natural sugar like 3) Avión Reposado ($55), with its fruit notes of pear and peach.

Tamaulipas and Guanajuato: A small amount of agave is grown in the states bordering Jalisco, like Guanajuato, where you'll find similar conditions. From there, 4) Corralejo Reposado ($30) is a standout, with ripe agave, a bright honey finish and mint notes. Tamaulipas is closer to the Gulf of Mexico, which can affect the aging process and impart a salty, sea quality to the agave. The result can be tropical and spicy, as in the butterscotch nose and banana-peel heat of 5) Chinaco Reposado. ($50).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chiming pop, as heard through a haze: Beach Fossils and Craft Spells

With Beach Fossils
At: Great Scott, Wednesday

Never mind the doom-saying about peak oil, considering the way contemporary indie-rock bands are employing the stuff this year, we may soon find ourselves approaching peak reverb. Case in point: the WZBC Spring Show Wednesday night, featuring Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils, whose latest album, “What a Pleasure’’ is so drenched in the stuff it’s like one of those pictures of a Gulf Coast bird covered in crude — if this analogy can withstand some additional mangling.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Taking a big dubstep forward | UK ’s Rusko lifts genre’s US profile

Dubstep is so hot right now. Dubstep is also so over. Depends on who you talk to.

The sub-genre of electronic music spun off from UK garage and drum ’n’ bass has been steadily bubbling over in dance clubs around the world since its inception in the early part of the last decade. As tends to be the case with all such trends, the term has come to encompass an amorphous range of styles; but it’s most typically characterized by its distinctive half-time kick and snare, wobbling low-end bass lines, and buzzing chainsaw effects. This past year, the form saw its most obvious entrée into the mainstream (much to the dismay of fans who tend to hyperventilate about these sorts of things) when it showed up in the breakdown of Britney Spears’s “Hold It Against Me.’’ That was either the moment when the trend suffered a popular death, or gained new life by expanding to a much broader, untapped audience.

Count Christopher Mercer — the Leeds-born DJ, and recent Los Angeles transplant who records and performs under the name Rusko, and headlines at the House of Blues on Tuesday — in the latter camp.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Together Festival: Bigger, better, bleepier

Copenhagen-based musician Trentemoller plays Royale on April 25.

Multiple venues across town,
April 18-25. Festival passes available from $95-$110, or tickets can be
purchased for individual events.
For full lineup and schedule
information, visit

Considering the scope of concerts and venues involved, and the number of artists, DJs and fans taking part, the Together Festival looks set to fulfill the mission implied in its name — bringing the electronic music community of New England together.

Now in its second year, the weeklong festival, which runs from April 18-25, will pack over 35 different performances as well as panels and workshops into 23 venues around the city, including clubs big and small like Royale, Paradise Rock Club, and Great Scott, and the campuses of Northeastern University and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Alexander Maniatis, one of the festival’s organizers, says he expects some 10,000 people to take part over the course of the week, roughly five times the size of last year’s inaugural event. “It’s all about the community,’’ he says. “It’s uniting the electronic music scene and the Boston community. A festival isn’t a festival without reaching out into the community. Education is at the forefront of the city, and we want that to be the forefront of this festival as well.’’

Holy Ghost! “Holy Ghost!’’

Like the stylistically similar Cut Copy (for whom it opened earlier this month at the House of Blues), as well as past tour mates like Chromeo and such studio bros as LCD Soundsystem, New York City’s Holy Ghost! makes music that dwells in the borderlands. It’s a cracking disco four-piece live, but it’s also a DJ/production duo. Here on record, the bass-funk and stuttering hi-hats snake through the synth haze and plinking keys like a forceful clubber pushing his way through a packed crowd. The balance of the record, some of which appeared on last summer’s brilliantly efficient dance primer “Static on the Wire’’ (its best song “I Will Come Back’’ curiously omitted here), feels like a trip through the picked-over record crates of NYC’s danceable past. Tracks like “Hold On,’’ with its handclaps, dirty bass, and jangly guitars, seem conjured directly from disco decades gone by. “Why do the good things happen in the past?’’ the lyric asks. By the time yacht rock icon Michael McDonald shows up for a breezy croon on “Some Children,’’ that nostalgia fetish feels fully consummated.

Boston Globe

A tribute to all the bars we’ve loved before


Being a guy who’s known to hit a bar one or two (or seven) nights a week, I’m always asked which is the best in the city. I usually don’t have an answer. It’s like asking a guy who just ate a fistful of M&Ms which one stood out from the pack. Um, green? There are too many new spots opening every month for me to be able to form a relationship with them, because as soon as our tryst is through, it’s onto the new kid on the block. What I can tell you is which bars I always go back to — the places that make it feel like it’s not work to be there.


Ke$ha: Glitter strewn among trashy tunes

Ke$ha (pictured in Los Angeles last year) hit the House of Blues Tuesday. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File)

At: House of Blues, Tuesday

Hard to believe it’s been less than two years since electro-pop vocoder dervish Ke$ha sprang forth onto the pop radar in a messy glop of glitter and whiskey-boasts with the release of her debut hit “Tik Tok.’’ Say what you will about the dominance of a certain other blonde dance-pop star, but we’re living in a post-Ke$ha world now. How downtrodden the city’s dance floors, how gray the world’s lipstick must have been in those B.K. years. (There was certainly less vaguely tribal face paint anyway.)

Plenty of that on display on Tuesday at a sold-out House of Blues for the all-ages crowd of squealing teenagers, mortified chaperones, and uncomfortable 30-something observers, particularly when she sang, “Old man, why are you staring at me?’’ during the song “Dinosaur’’ — at which point I promptly stopped having fun. (One plus side to the age demo: Despite all of Ke$ha’s songs and stage banter about getting wasted, the lines at the bars were virtually non-existent.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Got milk punch?


Our American forebears had the whole boozing thing on lockdown. So thanks to Ben Franklin and his buddies for inventing democracy and Boston or whatever, but this month I'm happier that the saucy old boy had a hand in popularizing milk punch, a drink that's currently seeing a resurgence in our cocktail scene. Ben passed along the recipe to his homeboy James Bowdoin back in 1763, writing from Boston, "Herewith you have the Receipt you desired." (Aphra Behn, who's sometimes cited as the first professional female writer, is actually credited with inventing the process for creating milk punch back in the late 1600s. But dudes always steal all the glory, don't they?)

Monday, April 11, 2011

At Northeastern, a master class in music appreciation

Wiz Khalifa performed during Springfest at Matthews Arena on Saturday. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

At: Matthews Arena, Saturday

The ideal college course load is one that exposes students to the full spectrum of ideas, past and present. Makes sense then that a school’s spring concert would echo that approach. Springfest at Northeastern ran the gamut of aw-shucks backpacker rap of Mac Miller, the corrosively melodic melodramas of emo linchpins Taking Back Sunday, ’90s alternative rockers Third Eye Blind, and the smoked-out Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa.

The former two acts sounded great from the sidewalk outside the impenetrable venue, where one nonstudent might have found himself engaged in a Kafkaesque ordeal to prove his official existence. Later on, San Francisco hit-makers Third Eye Blind leaned heavily on shoutable anthems from their smash 1997 self-titled debut, whose thunderous reception proved, if nothing else, that college students have a longer pop-cultural memory than you might expect. The crowd’s cheers may have just been the acoustics of the hockey arena’s stone interior playing tricks. Sound concerns notwithstanding, the goofily affable, muscular pop rock of “Graduate’’ and “Jumper’’ presented a strong defense for the band’s longevity.

TV on the Radio, 'Nine Types of Light'

Could be that the breathlessly lauded TV on the Radio is operating on some encrypted frequency that’s beyond mortal ears, but the Brooklyn, N.Y., head-trippers mostly sound asleep at the switch on their fifth album. “Second Song’’ sets the somnolent pace, with a barely focused monologue pulled from a boorish waking dream. It’s not until halfway through where a sexy vocal pass arrives and the band whips into a horn-flaring funk. Where is the taut psychedelic excitement of previous gems such as “Staring at the Sun’’? Or the wiry post-punk fuzz of “Wolf Like Me’’? Or the skewed, choppy funk of “Crying’’? “Keep Your Heart’’ is a morose would-be seduction with a groaning vocal that deliberately conceals the beauty hinted at in the brief choruses. One must wait until “Will Do’’ or “No Future Shock’’ for a memorable melody to break through. “Repetition’’ eventually, mercifully, unleashes a tightly wound guitar blast and a furiously spit vocal, while “Caffeinated Consciousness’’ is artfully jagged. There’s probably a lot to be cherished under the surface of the slower songs, but, honestly, who has the motivation to work for it? (Out tomorrow)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cut Copy live in Boston

At: House of Blues, Boston on Monday

In the normal trajectory of a band’s rise to the top of the indie-rock food chain, there’s a sweet spot where the X and Y axes of hype and creative output come together in a perfect storm. The band in question is established enough to draw a devoted following, with one or two beloved albums in the arsenal, but not so big that their popularity interferes with the experience of seeing them. For Australian indie-electropop outfit Cut Copy, that moment arrived at the Paradise in May of 2008, where the nascent dance act left no body in the house unmoved, gliding through their breakthrough record “In Ghost Colours.’’

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coco loco

Remember how acai berries in cocktails were going to make us all live forever and let us get drunk at the same time? That was a total thing a couple of years ago. Bygone cocktail trends can look silly in retrospect; it's like looking through the abandoned-photo graveyard on your Myspace account. Yikes. 

The lesson here is that it's always good to be skeptical of the marketed fads. It's even better to raise an eyebrow or three when it comes to supposed health fixes. Life isn't a video game where we can find instant power-ups to replenish the glowing hearts that float above our heads, no matter how awesome that would be. So determining whether coconut water - a trendy drink that's being used in cocktails at bars like Clink, Gargoyles on the Square, Hard Rock Café, Pops, Sam's at Louis, and Masa, to name a few - is going to do anything for you physically is beyond my pay grade here. It does have a lot of electrolytes, I suppose. But then again, so did that stuff they used to fertilize plants in Idiocracy. Determining whether it tastes good, now that I can do.

Cut Copy elevate the cycle of rock and dance

Talking about rock and dance music as if they were entirely separate entities is weird, because in the early years, they were essentially the same thing. In fact, dancing is one of the only two real reasons for music to exist; the other is to let everyone know you're better than they are. Music is also for making babies. Okay, so three things.

When rock and roll was invented, it would have been ridiculous not to dance to it — kids weren't stroking their chin whiskers and pontificating over Chuck Berry lyrics. But in the intervening decades, popular music has fragmented into a thousand shards of specificity, to the point where we're now approaching a 1:1 ratio of genre to listener. That means people who don't want to dance — most likely serious-minded indie pussies too cool to sweat — don't have to. Occasionally, a movement or a band comes along that makes it harder to resist. New wave and post-punk in the '80s, Madchester and big break-beat DJs in the '90s, and the DFA scene in the 2000s all worked their hypnotic beat charms on the kids. But though the marriage of indie and dance scenes is a recurring motif, it tends to come in short-lived bursts. Trends in music are cyclical, of course, so as soon as everyone starts dancing, it's time for the next shift of bands to punch in to work and take us in the opposite direction. That's known as the musical-spite corollary, a famous concept I just invented.

Don’t Quit Your Night Job: Musicians moonlight at regular jobs

Being in a band is really glamorous, right? There’s the adulation, the creative expression, the travel… and the ball-busting assistant manager looking over your shoulder at your day job to make sure you showed up on time. The truth is, making a full-time living as a musician just isn't a reality for even the vast majority of those in successful bands anymore. You might be surprised at just how many of your favorite musicians find themselves chained to a desk, retail or restaurant gig in order to pay the bills when they aren't living the dream on the road. The lucky ones find day jobs that tap into another side of their personality that they don't get to express through music. For others, it's a grind just like it is for the rest of us. We asked a bunch of bands about what they do for work, and whether or not it measures up to their night job (aka “the one that’s a lot harder to make money from”).

All four members of Richmond, Virginia’s THE RIOT BEFORE (on Paper + Plastick Records) still work in restaurants as cooks or bartenders. That line of work makes sense for musicians since the hours at a restaurant are flexible, and it's relatively easy to request off for long periods of time. “Our jobs are the only way we can afford to pay bills at home and eat while we are on tour,” says bassist CORY MANNING. “Since we all work pretty shitty jobs, the money usually isn't enough, so we’re always just scraping by. Basically, if we didn't work, we would all definitely be screwed.”