Make Up; Orb; U2…
|The expression evokes emotions of a time when music drove life's passions. When musicians were elevated to idols -- their lyrics a creed to live by. Music still holds that influence over our lives. Whether we listen to it in the car, at home, at work or in a small local corner blues bar, music enriches life like fine wine enhances food; the pair instinctively go together so easily, in so many combinations, that they must be one of life's greatest rewards.|
So with that in mind, let's quit messin' around and start digging into the intricacies of wine and music. Sit back, turn up the stereo, and start yanking some corks. Let life's greatest rewards take hold and move you beyond your wildest passions.
If contempo wine culture strikes you as an attitude-laden ego fest for the mutual fund set, a fine repellent would have to be Washington D.C.'s Make Up. Their new LP, Sound Verite (K Records) is crammed with abundant measures of R&B stomp-snarl, wild 'n primitive rave-ups and an ineffable fashion sense. Building on vamping keyboards, scratchy guitar and a lagging rhythm section, Make Up is lean and hungry, like an early Rolling Stones, but knowing and contemporary in a way only a truly indie, truly hip modern band can be.
Make Up would be good enough just strutting their sneering, promiscuous proto-soul rock, but when singer Ian Svenbonious joins a tune, they become a band possessed. Svenbonious is the owner of an entire library of whoops and sneers, come-ons and lines that simmer with malice one second, erotic energy the next. They strut, they taunt, they accuse, they proposition. Yikes!
Make Up will raise the barometric pressure in any room, so how about something young, uninhibited and uh, cheap. Pick up some Markham 1995 sauvignon blanc or Shooting Star 1995 Blue Franc (lemberger). You'll be able to find these no-BS California wines in most decent shops for under $10. What you'll bring home are very user-friendly wines with full, up-front ripe fruit and killer finishes. Unfortunately, that means you'll want to just hold these bottles up to your lips and suck 'em down dry. Try to contain yourself. At these prices you can afford a case.
|Orb has built the foundation on which much of contemporary electronic pop music rests. Orb doesn't just play mere songs, they sculpt whole cityscapes of sounds, setting them against a futurist backing of textures, beats, effects, rhythms and grooves. What begins as a vintage-era radio broadcast blooms into a vivid video frame blasted into life by this band's catalogue of samples, stereo effects and trippy audio tricks. On Orblivion (Island), Orb has toned down their atmospheric head music in an attempt to present something more closely related to pop structures. Orblivion -- a fine place for an Orb novice to begin a collection -- is spiced with easily digestible beats simmered against dance-floor friendly grooves.|
Orblivion screams for a beverage with a little class. Look for something complex with an interesting but agreeable brain. Something that, like Orb's intricate, beautiful electronic compositions, can be savored. A complex cab or a powerful zin from Clos du Val will do. But what about a beer? Think Full Sail's Perfect Porter. True, it's a seasonal. True it's either rare or expensive and usually both, but man, is it worth the effort. Deeply flavored but very drinkable, this gutsy charmer presents strong caramel and malt along with a nose that's full and sweet. Or, stir yourself up with a designer martini. Any one of the wild concoctions from our Other Vices "Designer Martinis" article will class up the joint!
|Speaking of electronic music, you may have heard of U2's recent forays into the world of electronica. On Pop (Island), the band again redefines itself, stubbornly refusing to age. It's a refreshing stance in a music world too often dominated by one-trick bands repeating the same punch line over and over. Pop wavers and floats in some sections that seem almost familiar. In other moments, the band slings forward, propelled by meaty, distinctive guitar and a razor-sharp rhythm section layered on club beats. For his part, vocalist Bono continues to evolve and integrate new styles. His husky baritone sometimes whispers, sometimes growls, and often soars. There are few major-label bands that take the time and care to remain vital. That U2 has done it so well for so long is reason enough to pick this one up on general principles.|
For less than the cost of Pop you can probably pick up a bottle of Gloria Ferrer non-vintage sparkling wine or Mirabelle non-vintage brut. Both these bubblies will heighten your senses while debating the merits of U2's recent moves toward 21st century pop.
|There are still a few bands out there making good old 20th century rock. Perhaps the best is Built to Spill. What is it about this Idaho-based band that is so appealing? Is it the way Doug Martsch's guitar gushes forth, revealing small streams and eddies? Could it be the way his lyrics -- offhand and delivered in a sly, low-key drawl -- seem so keen, so introspective? Built to Spill's new LP, Perfect From Now On (Warner Bros.), continues to chart the evolution of Martsch, as unique a talent as the rock scene has hosted in a decade. |
What's compelling about Built to Spill -- aside from their interesting lyrics and songs set against a background of cello and mellotron along with the requisite guitar, bass and drums -- is the fact that they can be so warm, so full of bubbling emotion. There are beautiful contours to a number of these songs. It's worth the hike to check out the band's landscape.
Here's a wine tip to go along with the rock tip: shiraz, the grape being caressed by all the in-the-know lips. The predominant flavors of shiraz (the Australian name for the syrah grape) are whallops of cherry and pepper spice. Killer bottles can be had for around $10.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate 1994 shiraz brings the forward cherry flavors in a quick, audacious splash. I wouldn't call this wine "round," but if you give it enough air, there are some interesting ideas beginning to wrap around all that fruit. Somehow this seems right for spring. Geyser Peak's shiraz, a Sonoma-born red, has quite a bit in common with the Coonawarra. It presents full cherry and berry flavors, needs a lot of breathing room and makes you feel like the grass is green and the sun is shining. Here's a hint: start buying now and you'll be on top of the next big thing before all your zin-chugging pals.
Built to Spill
Blue Note Records
|Also new for spring is Blue Note Records' reissue series. Here's the concept: Blue Note, jazz's most veritable label, is reissuing jazz versions of "classic" rock-era records. The first batch features Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Deja Vu," redone by guitarist Fareed Haque. Marvin Gaye's classic LP "What's Going On" is interpreted by saxist Everette Harp in a full star-studded gala. The most interesting of the lot, thus far, is the Charlie Hunter Quartet's version of Bob Marley's classic reggae record "Natty Dread." Hunter is a guitarist of amazing innovation and talent. Playing an eight-stringed instrument, he hits bass notes with his thumb while picking out poly-melodies with his fingers. It's an amazing listen, both technically and artistically. That his band, featuring both an alto and a tenor sax, mixes white-hot groove, funk and swinging jazz with effortless abandon is just gravy. This disc is not reggae, not jazz, not funk, but a combination featuring all of the above. "No Woman No Cry" is an acoustic ballad, while "Lively Up Yourself" becomes an acid jazz rave up. It's a fun, hip listen that also happens to be stunning in its scope of ideas and range of technical mastery. How very hip.|
Drinking a stunning bottle of wine is also pretty hip, and I can think of few bottles as hip as Balcom and Moe's 1994 Washington State merlot or Matanzas Creek's 1994 merlot. The Balcom and Moe is a mid-priced (about $15) wine that's mad with quality. It's soft, thoughtful and interesting because it seems so subtle, so well-conceived. Due to a serious weather crisis, Washington State wines are soon to become scarce. Grab a bottle while it's still affordable. Matanzas Creek's world-renowned merlot is richer and more powerful, adding another dimension to the total experience. It's a bit more expensive ($43) but worth every penny.
If you crave ear candy decidedly non-traditional, search out Banyan, a supergroup of sorts consisting of Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction, Porno for Pyros) on drums, Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose) on bass, Money Mark (Beastie Boys) on keys and guitarist Nels Cline (Nels Cline Trio, Geraldine Fibbers). On this self-titled LP (CyberOctave) Banyan's sprawling compositions run the gamut from slippery neo-jazz to noisy gusts of free-for-all progressive rock. What's special about this band is that each voice is free to wander and explore without actually having to worry about something as trivial as an actual "song." When the members' paths do occasionally cross, things fly across the room, pianos get dropped off balconies, car alarms go off, and dogs start barking all over the neighborhood.
You want esoteric? Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale erupts in a carnival of caramel apples and robust, malty warmth in much the same way that Banyan sprays its noises all over the room. Bigfoot's flavors are perfectly well-defined; its carbonation is spot-on, and its steep alcohol content is devilishly concealed behind easy, smooth drinkability and that tingly glow. Very dangerous stuff, this.
North Coast Brewing's Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout is another sneaky-strong batch of brew. Besides being a mouth-filling stout, Rasputin fills the glass with the most honestly chocolate flavor this side of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Sure, it sounds like the punch line to an off-color joke, but it's a party in your mouth!
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