Haiku Record Reviews – February 2014

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Give the People What They Want

It would be kitschy

if it wasn’t so awesome,

tasteful and well-done.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

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Dog Bite – Tranquilizers

Soft yet somehow sharp

rendering of the 80s

for today’s earbuds.

Dogbite

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Warpaint -S/T

Broody reverb pop

perfectly under produced

for gloomy autumns.

Warpaint

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Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair EP

Grungy as ever,

Sounds like Belly in my ears

Cutely forgettable.

speedy-ortiz-real-hair

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Pixies – EP2

Silver tongued Black Francis

More Catholics, more cowbell

Humorless, harmless

EP2

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Hospitality – Trouble

New effort takes them

from “cute” to “kinda rockin’ “

with more riff, less raff.

Trouble

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Beck – Morning Phase

A forty something’s

mutation of Mutations -

tender tunes abound.

Morning Phase

Eggers’ The Circle – Poignent and Pertinent Prose

The CircleWhen Eggers is at his best he is inspirationally human and entertaining. In The Circle, Eggers is comfortable and at his best with a slightly dystopian story in a slightly parallel universe. The dust jacket says Celtic tribal art and Pantone 179 but inside it’s a suspenseful and tastefully modern tale for the times. Standing alone, The Circle is crafty story that plays on current events in a tone that would make Rod Serling crack one of those half-faced smirks. Next to many other Eggers pieces, especially his previous effort – Hologram for the King – this book may be the most pertinent and tangible thing he’s written. It wanders from the world we know without getting us lost, it alludes to the dangers of our convenient and connected culture without wagging a finger and entertains without effort – a good read that sends a critical message without invoking a sense of panic.

The Circle is the story of a high-tech company that essentially is taking over the world and taking away individual privacy. In the book The Circle is actual the name of a big, bad evil empire-company; kind of mash-up of Google, Apple, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and anything else you or your children are using to connect nowadays. This corporate menace welcomes the book’s young protagonist, Mae Holland, into the fold in the first few pages and what follows is like a Facebook version of The Firm. The happiness and connectedness of the The Circle quickly dissolves to the paranoia and control of an omnipresent entity.

Mae’s job at the Circle is essentially customer service, something else that is relevant and tangible to so many (myself included). Her work is entwined with her social media presence and her performance is ultimately hinged on the prowess of her public persona. The constant checking-in, pinging, zinging and status updates strike a familiar chord with anyone that is balancing any combination of rudimentary social medias but to see it written out over the course of a couple pages is laughable. I have to admit that I’ve thought of this bit often as I surf and update my own Facebook, Instragram and Twitter feeds – noticing the effort and work it takes to maintain something so trivial.

EggersAs if sensing that the reader’s guilt would be buoyant at this point, the novel embraces this and runs with it. Mae has an pseudo-Luddite ex-boyfriend that preaches and warns against her digital world enveloping her natural world, she works through her own doubts and existential concerns as she moves up in the company and there’s even a mysterious doomsayer in her corporate construct that tries to cajole her away from the growing, connected menace. Nonetheless, Mae is seduced by the Circle’s promise to connect everyone, free information and “complete the circle”.

The prime conflict in The Circle is the company’s move toward total transparency for individuals. It starts with the Jobsian introduction of a small, low-cost, remote web cam that is made available to the public. Many fervent followers of the Circle (Circlers, of course) start placing these cameras all over the world – from the most public and populated areas to the farthest reaching remote and intimate areas. In no time there is almost complete video feeds from nearly any place on the world. In the wave of transparency, some people start to push for total transparency – basically where an individual wears a camera at all times (save for potty breaks). At first a few short-sighted but earnest politicians don the camera pendants in an effort to display their pious position as a civil servant. Soon, Mae is offered up as the fist non-politician person to go transparent and she quickly becomes a meme-like celebrity (with several million viewers to boot).

With the world watching, Mae plays a pivotal role in its future. Her public performance ends up being the key to unlock this totaltarian technology or keep it locked away forever by exposing it for what it is. Exactly what it is will be up to the reader for the most part. I imagine many readers will find themselves thinking about what Mae could or should do as they log into and update their various social media feeds. This read may coax out what is left of your rebellious youth, your romantically human side – or it may pragmatically play on something that may actually be a good thing: global connectedness.

While never peaking to anything outstanding, Eggers delivers, sentence after sentence, a consistently juicy story that  balances exposition and third person narrative. Also, the story itself – the mystery or suspense that threads the characters together – is equally pleasing. Some may find it trite but I think it’s rare to find something that avoids preaching but pontificates valuable ideas without lacing the prose with guilt. The Circle is a light read that truly enlightens and well worth the 500 page investment.

Boyd Bungles Bond – Solo by William Boyd

When it comes to Bond I’m absolutely a Sean Connery fan but for some reason I love For Your Eyes Only. Watching it now it’s easy to laugh at Roger Moore’s seasoned and pickled portrayal of the seductive spy. From kitschy karate chops to Brylcreem coif, Moore makes for a pretty awkward agent.

For Your Eyes Only

Nonetheless, my imagination is easily suspended as I watch these old flicks and is the same when I watch new ones – no matter how droll or dull (I’m looking at you Skyfall). And yet after two previous post-Fleming novels, with my belief still poised for suspension, I was not able to buy into William Boyd’s incarnation of Ian Fleming’s man.

Recent reports have shown that Fleming’s Bond drank nearly four times the recommended daily allowance and would not have been able to perform the tasks detailed any 007 novel. In Solo, Bond drinks capriciously and copiously with a fervor that would leave a mortal man in a such a stupor that he wouldn’t be able to spell Walther PPK let alone shoot one. That actually ends up being somewhat irrelevant since Bond doesn’t employ much of his iconic gadgetry in this book. My favorite part of anything Bond are Q’s gadgets and Solo had a scant few – really only one: knockout powder in the form of talc. This symptom had me ailing in Skyfall as well and it’s an unwelcome  in any 007 tale in my opinion.

Solo by William BoydThere is a lot in this book that seems to stray far from familiarity for any Fleming fan, aside from those cool little gadgets. Bond seems to be having a slight mid-life crisis, he nearly avoids martinis in favor of beer and whiskey and his suave sexuality has been usurped by a peeping tom perversion (there really is a creepy peeping tom scene). In just a few hundred pages Boyd seems to strip Bond of most recognizable tenents and renders a flaccid, adventureless story that is nearly painful to read.

This book lacks action to the point that its climatic points could be traced from drink to dame to drink to dame and so on. For example, in Solo one could describe Bond’s action as Whiskey – B Actress – Bourbon – Totally Creepy Peeping Tom Scene – Secretary – Martini – African Liaison – Beer – Beer – Whiskey – Beer – Beer – African Liaison – Martini – Vampirella (the B Actress ended up being “Vampirella”). There are maybe two points of real action, I mean the gunfire and men against man type. In one of these points, Bond is tied up but manages to escape and hide. The second actually has Bond taking a gut shot, but even a bullet to the protagonist couldn’t give this novel teeth.

I’m not sure if anyone will be able to bring Bond to life-like Fleming or the silver screen but the surrogate novels seem cheap and hollow, at best an echo of the original. Not fun enough to be Fletchian and with no familiarity to Flemingians, Boyd’s Bond should be endured by only the truest and most obsessive 007 fans – literally for their eyes only. Otherwise, reading this book will bore the living daylights out of you.

I Miss Missed Connections

Missed Connection  8

I used to place fake ads to friends, strangers and the general public. It’s true. Remember missed connections? They were those print ads placed by someone looking to reconnect with someone they chanced upon but somehow never connected with. There are various digital evolutions of this, and they are pretty interesting, but I’ve always been fascinated with the print variations of these things.

Missed Connection Hot DogBack in the day you had to clip out a form in the periodical, fill it out and mail it in to place an ad in the Missed Connections section of the classified. At first I just thought it would be funny to make one for a friend, play none the wiser and watch and revel in his guffawing that he got miss connected. It was hilarious and tickled me to no end, so I kept at it. After a few submissions, I noticed that all of my missed connections weren’t getting printed. They were on to me using their forum for my own pleasure. So I changed up my game.

I would take the effort to cut, tear or rip forms out so that they all appeared different. I used different pens, ink, pencils and did my best to mask and change my handwriting – sometimes a dainty, front-leaning cursive, other times a draftsman’s neat and linear all-caps and every now and then a bubbly, circuitous teen font. Subject matter and vocabulary altering in an attempt to mimic potentially legitimate seekers of second chances, I did everything I could think of to make it seem as if these forms were all coming in from different individuals. I even went so far as to mail the form from various posts offices or zip codes, with different envelopes and stamps.

Missed Connection  17At one point I was tracking at two to four postings a week and my Missed Connections were prolific if not all of the ads some weeks. After a while people also started to write back. A few people who knew I made fake missed connections started to play the game, too. I complemented a regular customer’s skirt and little dance she did and even jested that I wanted a dance lesson. A week later a handwritten note on a torn section of that week’s edition was mailed to the coffee shop, to my attention and offering dancing lessons (along with a phone number). A few years after I had stopped making them, I saw one of my Nasty Cheese EaterMissed Connections, “Nasty Cheese Eater” taped on the cheese slicer of my local grocery store.The Missed Connections Game was compelling to almost anyone and I daresay it was a major focus of my week’s creative free time.

There was this Russian couple that came in every Friday night and after they ordered the guy would always pick up the magazine and read the Missed Connections aloud to his wife as they waited for their drinks. One day he opened the magazine and he was greeted with a “Russian Missed Connection Lover” missed Missed Connection Tims Mamaconnection. I made one referencing a closed nightclub and a Halloween night from four years prior and I got them to print “Going Down Ayecock” (which is a street in Raleigh). Favorite TV shows like Mr.Show were referenced ad nauseam and little games within the game were invented like codes based the Periodic Table that translated Missed Connections into secret(ish) messages. Inevitably I also ended up using this as a method to deliver punchline after punchline at the sake of my friends (and a couple of friends’ mamas).

This game went on for about four or five years.  Over that time the local “Missed Connections” were retitled “I Saw I Saw YouYou” and the forms went digital and were only available on line. I also had been robbed of the fun of creatively filling out each form and confronted with the heightened challenge of being discovered (via email or IP address). I began creating bogus email accounts on Mindspring, Hotmail, Yahoo! and the like and I took the opportunity to use any public computer (libraries and malls at the time) to lob in a few submissions but they started to get more or less ignored.

After a while I actually started writing missed connections (or I Saw You’s in this case) to the magazine itself, directly addressing anyone editing this to please consider making the section more accessible (I might have said fun, too). Pretty soon the whole section was left out of the print edition and only available online. At that point it was buried amongst the sea of truly creepy and also hilarious ads on Craigslist and other sites online . Nearly all impact of any fake ad placed to any fake or real person was lost and so was the cause, so I just stopped one day.

I really appreciate some of the moments this series of little stunts afforded me. A friend used to say that it was my form of performance art and looking back maybe he was right. I wish I would have told him so at the time. Now, if only there was a way for me to reach out to him, have a second chance with a missed connection and ask “Who Performance ‘Arted?”.

Coffee Cocktails with Coffee Contraptions

Siphoned, Buttered & Cascara’ed Rum

Release the Kraken!

The buttered rum is a drink nearly synonymous with the American winter, especially the holiday season. As a hot beverage, coffee flavors lend nicely to variations of this drink and the theater of the coffee siphon rivals that of the finest yule log.

In this recipe I use a cascara from Finca Kilimanjaro in El Salvador and a dark spiced rum, The Kraken. All ingredients, save for the rum, are put into the top of the siphon (where your coffee normally would go) Go Baby Go!and allowed to boil for a few seconds before turning off the heat. Lastly, rum is added and the drink is garnished with cinnamon stick and lemon, and ready to be enjoyed. Variations include using apple cider instead of water (an apple wedge makes for cool garnish), bourbon instead of rum or molasses in lieu of brown sugar.

6 oz. Water

2 oz. Rum

1 tsp. Brown Sugar

6-12 Allspice Berries

3-5 g. Cascara

2 Cinnamon Sticks

1-3 g. Cracked Nutmeg

15 g. Butter

Lemon Garnish

Yule Love It!

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Bloody Kalita

Move Over Mary!

Who doesn’t love a Bloody Mary? I know people who don’t like tomatoes and gag at the thought of tomato juice but love Bloody Marys like a dog loves the sun. This drink also offers a wide playing field when it comes to variations, making it a great stage for many flavors to dance upon, including coffee.

Bloomin' 'ell!The Kalita Wave set is a beautiful piece of coffee brewing equipment. It reminds me of something “futuristic” that was designed in the 60′s and it works perfectly for this beverage. Some people may opt for a Bloody Mary mixer, others can use the recipe below and coffee can be dealer’s choice but I feel like darker roasts play well here. All ingredients are mixed in the Kalita then a small, strong brew is made directly into the mixture. Pour over ice and garnish with celery and lemon. This version also has a bit of flair with Korean chili powder and Asian celery.

6 oz. Tomato Juice

2 oz. Vodka

1 tablespoon  Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 tsp Korean Chili Powder

Salt and Pepper to Taste

2 oz. Coffee ( 3 g. Coffee + 45 g. Water)

Ice

Asian Celery and Lemon Slice Garnish

Meal in a Cup!

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Gin & Cascara Aeropressed Tonic

The Gin of Brotherly Love!

A prince of cocktails and an absolutely dazzling dancing partner for cascara, the gin and tonic is the base of this simple spin on a classic. Using a nice sized lime slice as an extra filter in the Aeropress eliminates the need for a chunky, squeezed garnish by infusing the drink with citrus and fun.

Straight UP.

Using the “upside down” method, all ingredients can be put into the Aeropress and set to rest for one minute before being dispensed over ice.

If it looks like your cascara isn’t readily infusing into the gin feel free to give it a go with a muddler. A fun variation of this drink is to eliminate the cascara from the recipe but use frozen cascara tea ice cubes instead.

2 oz. Gin

10 g. Cascara

Lime Slice 

Ice

Lime Garnish

GCT FTW!

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 Bourbon & Bourbon Mint Julep

Johnny Got His Drum

Bourbon (the spirit, but come to think of it the coffee, too) compliments nearly anything but, in my opinion, two flavors favor bourbon incredibly well: bacon and coffee. Save the bacon for the Bloody Kalita and grab your favorite natural-processed coffee for some southern fun with this sweet and powerful cocktail.

Since the ice cubes will be lending all the coffee flavor to this drink, the Espro serves more of a utilitarian function here. The double screen and plunger action work nicely as a muddler and freezing the Espro press first helps drop the temp of the slurry down. Add bourbon, sugar and mint to the press and plunge up and down vigorously and muddle if preferred.

Variations include alternate sweeteners or mint but don’t try using anything other than spearmint down south. Personally, I use peppermint in winter juleps and spearmint in spring juleps, but that’s me. Also, I prefer a natural coffee for this application because I feel like more zing is left after flash brewing and freezing the brew.

3 oz. Bourbon

4 – 6 Spearmint Sprigs

1 tsp Powdered Sugar

Coffee Ice Cubes ( Flash brewed at 1:15 Coffee/Water ratio )

Derby Days With a Kick!

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Candy Cascara Cane

The Dude Would Abide

The Impress is a pretty cool device. It makes great coffee and even serves as a fine shaker, strainer and infuser. It’s used as all three in this drink, merging milk, mint and fruit into a tasty concoction. While some folks just can’t reason with a dairy cocktail, I encourage you to give this one a try . I double dog dairy you.

IMPRESSive!

For those that aren’t familiar with the Impress you can read more about it in a previous blog post or get one at Design Box. All ingredients go into the bottom of the main chamber of the Impress and benefit from some generous muddling. Add ice and strain (using the Impress insert) over a couple cubes of ice in a sugar-rimmed glass.

3 oz. Vodka

4 oz. Fresh Milk

10 g. Cascara

6 – 10 Peppermint Sprigs

 Vanilla Bean or Vanilla Extract to Taste

Mint Rim!

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