Sunday, May 6, 2012

Digitalism dance to the harmony of song

Obviously there aren't meaningful lines between dance, pop, and indie-rock anymore, since more and more instrument-focused acts born as rock bands are leaning on the techniques of electronic music production to modernize their sound. But sometimes that transition works the other way around too, when a traditional DJ-culture act starts to focus more on the songwriting process typical of rock bands. Take Digitalism, the German electro/house team: their 2011 single "2 Hearts," a careering, guitar-driven, post-neo-disco-punk-indie/whatever track may be the most exuberantly danceable "song" (as opposed to a "track," mind you) of the year.

Liquid: Toast with Most

What's the best part of any wedding? Well, besides love or whatever, I mean. It's the drinking, right? It's the experience of elbowing up to an open bar and drinking yourself sideways with your oldest friends in the world (even if one of those old friends is someone's weird uncle you just met five minutes ago). But couples have to be careful about letting the liquid flow too freely: instead of hemorrhaging the unborn kid's college fund by serving every liquor under the sun, it might be smarter to choose a specialty wedding cocktail with just a handful of ingredients. So we asked a few experts around town to share their ideas for creative cocktails that have wide appeal, eschew logistical nightmares, and reflect the true spirit of a wedding - a time for romance, elegance, celebration, and drinking enough to stomach your family all weekend.

The I Formation: My friends hate watching football with me. I couldn’t be happier.

Though pro football has never been more popular on television, attendance in NFL stadiums has decreased for four straight years. The arguments in favor of watching at home are plentiful: It’s cheaper, easier to park, and the view on your HD flat screen is better than from your stadium seat. Despite all of those obvious advantages, attendance has been similarly pitiful at my apartment this season. If my football get-togethers were games, they'd be blacked out more often than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Why can't I get anyone to watch football with me?

Your first guess is probably that my friends don't enjoy my company, and you'd be right. But I also find myself turning down other people’s invitations and opting for a hermitic approach to football Sundays. It used to be a given that my friends would meet up at someone’s house each week. And this year, only four out of 12 of us bothered to show up for our fantasy draft barbecue. The Bowling Alone effect isn’t just for participatory sports any more. In this age of fantasy football and DVR, rooting for your favorite team has become a pastime that’s best enjoyed by yourself, hunkered down in a fandom isolation chamber. We are now millions of audiences of one.

Some of the reasons I prefer to keep to myself are as old as fandom itself. The inherent shamefulness of overzealous rooting—guilty as charged—causes me to duck out on social obligations, especially when I know the game will be ruined by a fun anchor who's indifferent about sports. (I’ve never understood blind rage until I watched my beloved New England Patriots lose in the playoffs while some killjoy was talking about how football is emblematic of our violent American culture.) The small talk, the elaborate food rituals, and the children milling about all take away from the experience of watching the game. Even so, I’ve always been willing to put up with human contact, as the benefits of a group football hangout usually outweighed the negatives.

Technology has changed that calculus. I no longer need to be in the same room with my friends to share a collective moment of euphoria. Now I can simply share my delight on Twitter or Facebook and collect dozens of electronic high-fives instantaneously. I spend more time now interacting with my friends digitally than in the flesh; it’s only logical that we'd take that approach to sports as well. Right now, for example, my friend is G-chatting me about how much he hates Tim Tebow, while another handful are complaining about their teams on our fantasy league board and a third group is texting me about the Patriots game. In a living room, you'd call that noise. Here at home, it's a lot easier to manage. We're essentially watching TV together—why do we need to be in the same room?
As home-theater technology has filtered down to the masses, we’ve all become captains of our own sport-y spaceships. DVRs have become much more commonplace in just the last few years, with the percentage of DVR-equipped homes increasing from 14 percent to 42 percent since 2007. HD has also become mandatory for sports fans, and diehards can now follow multiple games at once thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket and the revolutionary RedZone channel.

Now that a personalized, crystal-clear picture is at everyone's fingertips, it is pure torture to let someone else man the controls. Watching my friends operate a DVR makes me feel like a nervous backseat driver. When I'm at my in-laws’ house, for instance, I have to watch the Patriots game in a separate room because my father-in-law will inevitably flip over to golf during commercials. Personally, I like to pause the action every time there's a stoppage in play or when, say, the damn Patriots defense allows yet another third down conversion. (That happens a lot.) After I hit pause, I'll walk around the house a few times grinding my teeth. If I did that with company around, it would inevitably lead to someone complaining about being behind real time and somebody else whining that he can’t check his fantasy numbers without spoiling the game that’s now on pause. And they would be right to complain, if those hypothetical people still came over to watch football. Thankfully, I’ve scared them all away.

On the few recent occasions that I have dragged myself to a friend's house, or vice versa, we spend most of the time staring at our smart phones and tablets. What exactly is the benefit of physical proximity in that scenario? “Check out this funny tweet I just sent” doesn't really count as conversation, does it? And there's always the one poor guy who didn't bring his laptop and has to continually ask one of us to check his scores for him. He might as well be watching the game through a hole in a wooden fence like a cartoon character from the 1930s.

This together/alone approach isn’t unique to sports viewership. Consider how video-game producers have moved away from split-screen games and multicontroller hubs and toward online multiplayers where everyone logs in from their couch. A generation of children is being raised with the idea that “hanging out” means logging on and “playing” with your friends online. Internet porn is similarly encroaching on our actual sex lives. It's often more convenient to just get the job done digitally, by yourself, at your leisure.

Is technology like this isolating, or does it allow us to connect with more people more often? In this case, I'd say it’s both at once. I still want to interact with my friends through sports, but I can reach more of my fellow Patriots fans through a single tweet than I ever could have back in the analog era. There are plenty of days, though, when my increasingly personalized approach to sports-watching makes interpersonal connections harder to achieve. If I’m watching on DVR delay, I have to avoid Facebook and texts and chats so as not to spoil the game. That means I’m eschewing both the real-life social experience and the techno-social one—but, hey, at least I don't have to make small talk during the beer ads.

I’ll leave one final thought for the sports philosophers. Fandom is the quintessentially shared experience, the modern expression of the primal collective. But if I’m cheering for Wes Welker by myself—in my house, watching on tape delay, with my phone turned off—does it even make a sound?


BMA rocks with the tried, true, and new

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Electronic Artist award winners Freezepop were icy cool and dance-friendly in their synth-pop dance party, with Liz Enthusiasm as the lead singer.

The Liberty Hotel, the cheekily named swank locale and onetime prison, has seen its share of characters both high and low saunter through its stout stone walls over the years. Last night at the 24th edition of the Boston Music Awards, it may have played host to its most interesting rogues’ gallery yet. 

Tough calls at Boston Music Awards


With Moufy, Viva Viva, Bloco AfroBrazil, Roy Sludge, Freezepop, and others.
At: Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles St., Boston. Sunday, 7 p.m. Tickets: $20-$99.

On Sunday the 24th edition of the Boston Music Awards takes over the Liberty Hotel again this year to showcase the best in Boston music. With performances from a dozen-plus of the nominees throughout the venue, it’s a one-stop chance to catch up on all the home-brewed talent you fell in love with this year, or to discover what you’ve been missing out on. We broke down some of the top awards categories below with who we think should win, who has an outside chance, and why.

Thursty: Firebrand Saints

Food, drink and space, the final frontier, are all plentiful at Firebrand Saints. 

From your first visit to the website of Firebrand Saints you can tell something's a little different here.
It's a clone of a NASA website, with a little button for the menu hidden up in the top corner.
Ohhhkaaayy. Inside the newest restaurant in Kendall Square (natch), the interplay of science, art and food continues with beaker-like water glasses, deconstructed video installations of the the TV feed in a rotating collage and sketches of Google map locations projected onto the wall above you while you sit at a grated metal and wooden bar overlooking an open kitchen where hunks of meat rotate on spits.

Tiki's Next Wave

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas
Tiki Drinks, from left: Lunch Cart, Fog Cutter, A Day at the Races

Over the past few years, the craft cocktail world has reimmersed itself in the retro delights of the Tiki bar, bringing respect back to drinks that had been maligned as tacky. It's a broad genre, but as a general rule, they give off a summery vibe with flavored syrups, fruit juices and, of course, rum. Lots and lots of rum. 

Noel Gallagher takes center stage

Oasis fans have long wondered what the Manchester band's records would have sounded like without Liam Gallagher in the mix, and the 'Sis's recent breakup has answered all that. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (Mercury) is everything Oasis fans have been waiting for — gorgeously romantic and effortlessly melodic, even if it wasn't the ideal outcome for the songwriter himself. "The fact that the record exists is because I was forced into making it," the elder Gallagher explains over the phone from the UK.

 "It wasn't something that I wanted to do. I don't want a solo career, I'd much rather be in a band. Unfortunately, the band I was in, I can't be in that band anymore. It was just fucked up."

Liquid: Root of the Matter

Everyone likes root beer, right? It brings back fond memories of childhood - of big, frothy mugs of the stuff topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, of being a really chubby fifth grader. (Ah, the good old days.) But there's one glaring problem that root beer has had for more than a century: it's a lot more root than beer. You see, when it started out in 18th-century Pennsylvania, in a recipe that riffed off of a Native American "root tea" made with sassafras, birch bark, and sarsaparilla, it was actually an alcoholic beverage. But in the 19th century, when the temperance movement was taking hold, Dr. Killjoy Nofun - ahem, Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires - nixed the alcohol content, repackaged it as a soft drink, and only then christened his creation with its beery name (which was kind of a dick move, if you ask me). 

Tavern in the Square: A spot where everything is just the same


Finding a good or a bad bar is simple. Trying to pinpoint something in between is surprisingly difficult. Since most of us have become so accustomed to accepting boring and milquetoast as standard, it throws off the grading curve. 

What is a mediocre bar, you might ask? It’s not an exact science, but in general, after drinking at a mediocre bar, you leave feeling like you were never even there, and more frequently feeling like you’ve just eaten a giant plate of nachos, even if you only had drinks.

App helps users locate their favorite bartenders

The specialization of the cocktail world means that, for aficionados, it’s no longer sufficient to pop into whatever bar you pass and hope they’ll know how to make your hand-selected house barrel five-rum-blend tiki flip. Knowing ahead of time who’s behind the bar on a given night can help bar-hoppers plan more efficiently. A new free application (for iPhone and Android) designed by developers TJ Connelly, of Cambridge, and Ian Stanczyk, of the North End, called On the Bar (, helps cocktail fans connect with their favorite bartenders. We asked the duo to explain how it works.



“Strong men also cry.’’ It’s not just an eminently quotable line from “The Big Lebowski,’’ it’s the sentiment at the hard heart of the urban Americana on the second full-length from Boston’s Movers & Shakers. Tales of romantic woe come packaged with the accouterments of the modern rambling cowboy here - pedal steel, organs, accordion, three-part harmonies, and horns bundled together with the ol’ proverbial dusty-road aesthetic. On songs like “Fallen From Grace,’’ guitarist and vocalist Matt Price strains toward an understanding of a messy relationship, shifting from a downtrodden verse to an achingly self-reassuring chorus. It’s depressingly hopeful. There are no literal dusty roads in Boston, but concerns of geography are irrelevant as lovelorn bar-rock anthems like “Just Lonely Souls,’’ the Westerbergian “The Sun Won’t Show Its Face Anymore,’’ and the meandering harmonica and finger-picked plea of “Lay Down With Me’’ bring the settler’s camp to you. We’ve all got dusty roads in our hearts anyway - even the strong men.

ESSENTIAL “Fallen From Grace’’

Movers & Shakers play a record release party with Viva Viva at the Middle East Upstairs on Nov. 10.


Age Rings find a little less is a lot more on ‘Black Honey’

Upon first listen to “Black Honey’’ from Boston’s Age Rings - and let’s get out of the way right off the top that you should listen to it - you might be taken aback at the album’s breadth of song styles. It shifts seamlessly from the bar-rock and chunky-piano riffing of “Important Guy’’ to the Pixies-ish bass-buzz and fuzz of “Rock and Roll Is Dead,’’ to the schizophrenic screaming of “Lemonade,’’ with detours into a looping, loping, Beck-ian drawl, and wounded balladry that would make Conor Oberst weep. It’s like listening to two entire albums worth of material at once.

Liquid: Drink It Down

Photo: MELISSA OSTROW Charlotte Voisey, cocktail consultant for W Hotels

The best drinking often happens underground. There's something primal about the experience that harks back to the first dark, dank, primitive watering holes. (Which, come to think of it, were literally watering holes - and had absolutely killer specials on Schlitz, I'm guessing.) Two local subterranean bars, Saloon (255 Elm Street, Somerville, 617.628.4444) and Descent (100 Stuart Street, Boston, 617.310.6742), are brand-spanking new, yet both nod to the past. Slated to open at the beginning of the month, Saloon - a downstairs expansion of Davis Square's Foundry on Elm restaurant - looks back to an era even earlier than that which inspired the now-ubiquitous speakeasy aesthetic. And Descent, the ultra-modern W Boston's new underground nightspot, nods to the Theater District's not-so-distant past as a red-light district. Before the paint was dry and the tap wet, we pulled up a stool with their respective tastemakers to learn more.

Local bands dress up this Halloween

Glenn di Benedetto of Parlour Bells as Jane's Addiction.
Glenn di Benedetto of Parlour Bells as Jane's Addiction.

Planning out which shows you’re going to check out on any given weekend in Boston is hard enough; but a slate of performances from Prince, the B-52s, the Beatles, Amy Winehouse, and the Replacements presents even more problems than usual. It’s just another installment of the longstanding Boston tradition of local talent dressing up in the clothes, and the tunes, of their musical heroes. There are dozens of shows to choose from, but below is a selection of standout efforts we feel deserve some extra recognition. 

The Black Angels

With Dead Meadow
At: Middle East Downstairs, Wednesday

Elsewhere in the city Halloween festivities were already underway, but music fans looking for a taste of the genuinely macabre might’ve better considered the Black Angels show at the Middle East Downstairs on Wednesday night.

Decked out in conceptual 1960s genre costumes, the Austin, Texas, psychedelic rock band delved into grisly Jim Morrison-style desert hallucinations. Songs like “Bad Vibrations’’ from the band’s third and most recent album, “Phosphene Dream,’’ undulated with the threatening cool of the dirge-era Velvet Underground, singer Alex Maas conjuring the ghastly beautiful spirit of a bearded Nico.

Future classics

Over the past decade, we've seen the term "renaissance" used a lot to describe what's happening in the cocktail world: a return to old-school ways of thinking about how we're drinking, and a fonder appreciation for classic cocktails. But let's stop looking to the past for a moment. What about the future? What contemporary cocktails will actually become tomorrow's classics? I've heard a few suggestions, from the Final Ward to the Red Hook (developed by NYC bartenders Philip Ward and Enzo Errico, respectively) to the Chartreuse Swizzle, the creation of San Francisco mixologist Marcovaldo Dionysos.

Inspired by a book series, bloggers produce a culinary phenomenon

Engrossing works of fiction inspire all manner of reader reactions. But hunger? That’s a surprisingly common takeaway for obsessed fans of George R.R. Martin’s best-selling series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,’’ the fifth book of which, “A Dance With Dragons,’’ hit shelves this summer after HBO’s adaptation of the first book, “Game of Thrones.’’

Millions of readers around the world have been devouring the epic fantasy phenomenon — some more literally than others.

Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, two women who met by chance when they became roommates in Allston last year, were so inspired by Martin’s descriptions of the food in his realm of knights, lords, dragons, and meat pies, they decided to create the dishes themselves. That includes pigeon pie, potted hare, even honeyed locusts.
The result is the blog Inn at the Crossroads (, launched in March, where the two have been detailing their attempt to cook almost every meal mentioned in the series. The blog has gotten so popular that its authors just landed a book deal with Random House’s Bantam Books, which publishes Martin’s series. “A Feast of Ice and Fire’’ will be come out next September.

The food blog-to-book project is reminiscent of Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,’’ which chronicled her experience cooking her way through the first volume of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’’ There are a few glaring differences, though. Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer have had to dream up their own recipes, as there are none in Martin’s books. Also, there’s a dearth of dragons in Child’s oeuvre.

“It all happened very quickly,’’ says Lehrer, 25, a personal assistant at an investment banking firm. “We’re a little blown away by it but very excited.’’ She began reading the series earlier this year after Monroe-Cassel, 26, a longtime fan, recommended it to her and their four other roommates.

“I was a very quick fan of the books,’’ says Monroe-Cassel, who’s now focusing full time on the cookbook. She began reading them about seven years ago. The first book, “A Game of Thrones,’’ came out in 1996.

“I think like a lot of people I started reading the first book and thought, ‘I know how this is going to go, typical fantasy story.’ You get to, like, Page 50 or something and Martin throws the first monkey wrench in there and breaks the rules. That’s when I was really hooked.’’

Lehrer grew up reading fantasy books, but “then I kind of got out of it,’’ she says. “It’s weird that this is fantasy because it’s not like typical magical fantasy. I think the story lines are a lot more in depth than a lot of fantasy novels, and the characters are more well-developed.’’

That may be why fans have become so invested in the characters. And their eating habits.

“I was tickled by it. It seemed like a fun idea,’’ Martin says by phone, of the Inn at the Crossroads blog. “There had been other people that had written to me over the years that said they were trying to cook some dishes from the [books], but the two women from the Inn at the Crossroads are the ones who really took up the ball and ran with it and began cooking all the dishes. But I had to warn them right away that they shouldn’t cook all the dishes.’’

Like the seagull, he says. Or peacocks served in their plumage. Or rat on a stick.
Obviously grotesque options aside, Lehrer says she is not very squeamish about most of the dishes they’ve whipped up. She’s even looking forward to making eel pie. “There’s pretty much nothing that I won’t eat,’’ she says. “I’m the one that’s going to be making the lamprey pie when my lampreys arrive.’’

Monroe-Cassel, on the other hand, says that while there are a few things she does not want to try (jellied calves’ brains), they draw the line, of course, at ingredients that are hard or illegal to acquire, such as horse meat. (Nor would they ever attempt to cook camel, dog, or heron. Blech.) But a lot of simply exotic fare doesn’t scare them off. Honey-spiced locusts, for example.

“We used crickets, figuring it was pretty close,’’ Monroe-Cassel says. “They were actually very good. A little nutty, very crunchy.’’

It’s been a steep learning curve for two people with no formal background in cooking. “All I know is what my mama taught me,’’ Lehrer says. That was a mix of old Jewish recipes, French-Canadian fare, and traditional New England dishes.

Martin himself is even less skilled in the kitchen. He says all of the food references in the series serve a literary function.

“I do describe [the food so thoroughly] in the books, because it’s part of my general philosophy as a writer,’’ he says. “I really want to put my reader in a story, want them to experience it. It’s a much more vivid sensory input, the smells, tastes, and sounds of a story that make the story come alive.’’

The dishes are not all arcane. Recipes for corn fritters, rustic breads, baked venison, and seafood stew are also on the blog. The first recipe the roommates attempted was the iconic lemon cake, often associated with the romantic character Sansa Stark. The cakes’ importance in the book goes beyond nourishment, the cooks say. They serve as a literary device.

“I think in the books they’re representative of Sansa’s naivete,’’ Monroe-Cassel says. “There’s a moment where [her sister, the defiant] Arya is out on the streets of King’s Landing in Book 1. She’s dirty and on the run and she sees a tray full of tarts and lemon cakes. She wants one, and it’s kind of a longing for her previous life that’s clearly gone now.’’

Roy Kamada, assistant professor in the Writing, Literature and Publishing department at Emerson College, says cooking the dishes described in a book series is another way for readers to bring the books they adore to life. He compares it to people who journey to Stratford-Upon-Avon for Shakespeare festivals, or take tours of Dickens’s England, or learn to speak Elvish.

“When you read, you ingest the language and the world of the author,’’ Kamada says. “But to literalize it like this is a particularly powerful way of bringing a book into your world.’’
Cheryl Apicella, 31, of New York, heartily agrees.

“While reading the book, I’d always wished I could make the tasty-sounding food described in it,“ says Apicella. “I’ve been possibly [the blog’s] biggest fan ever since and cook meals for my family from it regularly. I was always surprised that it took this long for a site like this to happen.’’

Loving both the books and to cook was not enough to get the blog started. It required much research by Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer. While “A Song of Ice and Fire’’ is not set in the world we know, the culinary landscape is a rough equivalent of medieval Europe. For added “authenticity,’’ Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer look to medieval cookbooks for ideas on how to best organize their recipes. That’s where Martin gets much of his culinary inspiration, too.

“That’s why we wanted to do a medieval and modern version [of each dish] to take a look at how food preferences have changed over time, if they have, and to see how far back you can trace a certain dish,’’ Monroe-Cassel says. “It’s really neat to have the two of them side by side and compare. We get into some fierce debates in the house over which dish is the better version sometimes. People pick favorites quickly.’’

Boston Globe