Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Spring Cleaning with Ryan Adams

With summer only a week away, Ryan Adams is doing some spring cleaning. The singer-songwriter (and FP hero) announced he's finished work on The Cardinals III/IV, an unreleased double album from 2006, and the Blackhole LP, recorded in 2005 and recently dubbed "Love is Hell Part 3" by Adams on his facebook page.

Adams has been quiet since he quit the Cardinals in early 2009 and married Mandy Moore months later.  As a Greek friend used to say: Life is Choices. Sure, he was publishing poetry books, writing video game reviews (sigh), and experimenting with heavy metal.  But for a guy who recorded a dozen albums  before the age of 35, all that amounts to early retirement. And when we bumped into Adams on Allen Street, we were too dumbstruck to say hi, much less press for details of his life, musical or otherwise.

No word on when these records will drop or how they compare to previous Adams recordings. For now, if you've never heard Heartbreaker, there's still time to redeem yourself before the record's 10th anniversary in September. Seriously.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Young Mammals: Messin' with Texas

Brooklyn may be the music capital of the universe, but don’t tell that to Texas. Every year, Austin hosts thousands of festival fans at South by Southwest in the spring and Austin City Limits in the fall. To the north, Denton may be the next Austin and is an indie rock hub in its own right. And while Houston is best known for oil and Mission Control, the city is also home to Young Mammals, whose fusion of indie and surf-rock sounds is the latest addition to FP's summer playlist.

Carrots, the forthcoming record from Young Mammals, is short and sweet: 35 minutes of exuberance and controlled chaos. Most of the 11 songs are upbeat rockers with more drum rolls than a weekend with The Ventures.  While three of the four band members are Mexican-American, their sounds owes more to gringo gods. Lead singer Carlos Sanchez sounds like Frank Black with a sense of pitch. And the relentlessness and repetitiveness of the guitar and bass lines recalls a host of rock bands from the last 40 years, from The Velvet Underground to FP Top 5 Throwback band Surfer Blood.

Young Mammals, Confetti

Playfulness rules the record, with odes to model trains, dragon wagons, and trips to the beach. "Duck" shouts out to actual mammals like cows, horses, cats, pigs, and rats. And songs like 848 ("If Jesus knew how to talk/Lester would be upset") further the impression that the Mammals use words less for  narrative or emotional meaning than for amusement. 

Young Mammals, 848

Young Mammals, The Man in the Cannon

Carrots drops on June 22.  Meanwhile, the band's hometown Houston Press has anointed Young Mammals as their Artist of the Week. And the YM summer tour includes a slot at the upcoming Northside Festival in Brooklyn, previewed last week on Frontier Psychiatrist.  One more reason to jump on the G Train.


Frontier Gastronomy, vol. 2: The Bacon Fat of the 2010s

One of my current culinary puzzles is why American home cooks have added Southeast Asian fish sauce to their pantries in droves, yet have not discovered gochu jang. Gochu jang is a Korean fermented chili paste, a rusty red condiment that most folks in this country first encounter -- if ever-- as the dollop of thick spicy paste on a bowl of bibimbap. If Middle America can embrace the funky, fermented umami juice that is nam pla, why have they not been turned onto the complex flavors of gochu jang? Maybe Korean cuisine just has a PR problem -- though kimchi is now so popular that my local Italian deli now sells jars of it. For my money, gochu jang is going to be the bacon fat of this decade, the ingredient that becomes a ubiquitous flavor-punch tool, the secret weapon of hipster chefs and aspiring home gourmets.

Gochu jang is traditionally prepared in earthenware pots and fermented on elevated stone platforms. Most food references just acknowledge that its manufacture is a lengthy process and advise purchasing a tub from the local "ethnic" grocery store. What elevates gochu jang above hot sauces and chopped chilis is this lengthy fermentation. Much in the same way as browning a piece of meat adds layers of caramelly-complexity to a dish, so does fermentation create a paste with a low, sweet heat that lingers on the palate long after the food has been swallowed. I have been horrified to find some Americanized recipes suggesting that a pinch of red pepper flakes can substitute for gochu jang. That's like saying cucumbers can substitute for dill pickles, or chopped tomatoes for a marinara. Mark Bittman probably comes closest by suggesting that tabasco or cayenne be stirred into hoisin sauce. But still, this stuff is its own food group. Don't substitute - find a different recipe.

Gochu jang is added to many Korean stews and marinades. Indeed, I have found that if you get your hands on a jar, most of your guests will taste your dish, stare at you wide-eyed, and say that it tastes "just like a restaurant". The only other time I achieve this effect is when I add unholy amounts of butter to pasta sauces. I could give you a recipe for marinated beef or for bibimbap, which would certainly be more traditional way to feature the magic of gochu jang.  I am, however, going to offer a vegetable dish, one so good that it makes weekly appearances on our dinner table. I make this dish with spinach, but any greens from the garden or farmer's market will do.  I have no idea if this is an authentic dish...I found it in an "Asian" cookbook, and for all I know, it is the foodie version of "Oriental" chicken salad. No matter the provenance, it is very good, and never fails to please even the most die-hard greens-haters. It handily demonstrates how a secret ingredient (and not bacon fat or butter!) can make even humble ingredients sing.

Greens with Sesame Dressing
(adapted from Wendy Hutton's A Cook's Guide to Asian Vegetables)

3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 pounds of dark greens (spinach, chard, mizuna, etc), stems discarded and washed well
2 cloves of garlic
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1-2 teaspoons of gochu jang, or to taste
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1. Toast the sesame seeds in a small pan until light golden and fragrant. Using a mug or a pestle, lightly crush them while still warm and set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens, stir gently for a minute and then drain. Rinse with cool water and drain again, pressing hard to expel excess water. Transfer to a cutting board and chop coarsely.

3. In the serving bowl, pound the garlic with the pinch of salt into a coarse paste (I use a wooden spoon, some folks use the side of a heavy knife). Add the remaining ingredients and the crushed sesame seeds and mix well. Add greens and toss to coat. Serve at room temperature.



Friday, June 11, 2010

Indiephemera Friday, vol. 9: Since They Left Us

As we come to the end of Throwback Week on Frontier Psychiatrist, we realize that the choice of this particular week was more prescient than we could have imagined (note: preceding modesty false).  First came the news Wednesday morning that mysterious electronic outfit and blog namesake The Avalanches were in the process of recording their first record since 2000 classic Since I Left You, a record that changed the way samples were used in pop music like none since Paul's Boutique.  There is little information available on the new record, but apparently it will feature vocals from Animal Collective protegé Ariel Pink, whose fascinating new record was released this week.

Then, Wednesday evening, shortly after FP named The Strokes' classic debut #1 on its list of the decade's best throwback albums, a band named Venison with a logo striking in its similarity to that of The Strokes played a small gig in London.  Turned out (surprise!) it was The Strokes.  The show was the band's first in four years; the set featured 18 songs but no new material.  Some grainy video below:

The Strokes (aka Venison) - Last Night

Frontier Psychiatrist or Frontier Psychic?  You be the judge.  More news from the week:

*In case you hadn't heard, Bonarroo is taking place this week.  Sadly, we couldn't make the trip down to Nashville.  What can we say?  We have jobs.  Luckily, the good people at NPR Music (who have much better jobs) did make the trip, and they will be bringing the listener live broadcasts of over 40 bands, many of which will be available later on an on-demand basis (A performance by The xx is available now).  The broadcasts are quite varied and include such bands as indie superstars LCD Soundsystem, punk upstarts Japandroids, blog-rap sensations Wale and Kid Cudi, and newgrass hipster The Punch Brothers.

*Speaking of Japandroids, they deserve a special mention during Throwback Week.  With their youthful élan, iconic cover art, and classic punk approach they hearken back to the incipient stages of indie music (chronicled so well in Michael Azzerad's classic Our Band Could Be Your Life).   Their debut full-length Post-Nothing was among the best of the decade's penultimate year, and in 2010 they resurrected another early-indie trademark: the singles series.  Each single (there are five-planned) consists of a new A-side and a cover of a punk/hardcore favorite (Black Flag, X) on the B-side.  The second of the series, "Younger Us," was released this week:

Japandroids - Younger Us

*New Single from the Adult Swim Singles Series by the previously profiled Washed Out:
Washed Out feat. Carolin Polachek - You and I

*The new Tokyo Police Club...not bad:
Tokyo Poice Club - Breakneck Speed

*The new video from Neon Indian...pretty weird (click to play):

*And, finally, hot off the presses, a spectacular remix of the controversial M.I.A.'s new song XXXO featuring the one and only Hova:

M.I.A. = XXXO (Jay-Z Remix)

Now get out to Hillstock 2010 and enjoy the weekend!

Frontier Mixology, Vol. 8: Blood and Sand

Johnny "Blood" McNally was a Hall of Fame halfback who played in the early days of professional football for a variety of teams, including the Duluth Eskimos and the Pottsville Maroons. A supposedly larger-than-life sort, this so-called "totally unpredictable funster" was fictionalized recently in the movie Leatherheads. No surprise, but Johnny Blood wasn’t always so-named, he chose the name for himself after seeing a movie marquee advertising the Rudolph Valentino silent film classic Blood and Sand. Now, the decision to chose one’s own nickname is a questionable move, after all it could get stolen by Neil Watkins in accounting, but Johnny picked quite a movie. As one might expect, Blood and Sand concerns a reckless matador who becomes ensnared in a tragic love triangle involving sado-masochistic overtones, concatenations of betrayal, and, of course, a good deal of goring. In addition to serving as the inspiration for Johnny Blood’s nickname, the movie also lent its name to an interesting drink, purportedly first concocted for the film’s premier in 1922.

The namesake cocktail is rather unique in the world of cocktails because it uses Scotch whisky as its base spirit. Scotch, with its dry smokiness, can be a cranky partner, generally not playing well with others. Certain drinks use a rinse of, for example, a particularly smoky Scotch to add an interesting aromatic note, but, as a major player, Scotch tends to overwhelm the balance of most cocktails. Moreover, a good Scotch is a pleasure unto itself, and is best enjoyed neat or, at most, with a single ice cube. The Blood and Sand somehow manages to defy successfully this logic, however, and produces – surprisingly – a remarkably delicious cocktail. Deviating from the standard “equal parts” recipe, we like to increase the amount of whisky to tone down the sweetness.

Blood and Sand Cocktail

oz. blended Scotch whisky (Cutty Sark, Red Label, etc.)

¾ oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice

¾ oz. cherry brandy or cherry liqueur (Cherry Heering works best)

¾ oz. sweet vermouth

Shake all ingredients together in an iced cocktail shaker; strain into a chilled glass; garnish with a brandied cherry, if desired.

Even if you don’t know the difference between a matador and a picador, or your fandom of the Pottsville Maroons is limited to their 1924 Anthracite League championship-clinching win over Coaldale Big Green, nonetheless, the Blood and Sand is worth a try.

Drink up,