Archive for October, 2010

Deerhunter – ‘Halcyon Digest’

I’m not really sure I’m even ready to write about ‘Halcyon Digest’ yet. At the same time, I feel compelled to write about it obsessively. I think that actually says quite a bit about the kind of band Deerhunter is and the kind of album ‘Halcyon Digest’ is.

Deerhunter makes music that is simultaneously reminiscent of days of alternative music’s past and prescient of what the future has in store. Even the way they present themselves suggests an indebtedness to indie rock’s underground past while embracing the advantages of modern technology. For instance, when ‘Halcyon Digest’ was announced, the band encouraged fans to print up a flyer from their website and post it in interesting places and then send pics of the flyers to the band. Deerhunter’s leader Bradford Cox regularly uploads “mixtapes” that are free to download on the band’s blog. (An entire blog entry could actually be devoted just to Deerhunter’s blog so please don’t get me started on that!)

For all intents and purposes, Deerhunter SHOULD be considered among the most relevant bands in music. Unfortunately (for the music listening public) and fortunately (for those of us who are fans) they remain on the outskirts. Loved by critics, record store clerks and music bloggers yet totally unknown by the Lady Gaga worshipping public. Or for that matter even the U2 loving public. What’s odd is that listening to ‘Halcyon Digest’ especially when compared to the band’s earlier work, one will find some of the most exciting and LISTENABLE music you’ll ever hear. Deerhunter’s knowledge of the DNA of pop music is obvious. What makes it so vital, though, is that they infuse the familiar with the unfamiliar. Tweaking those elements that we all know by heart with just the right amount of invention that it sounds like something we’ve never heard before. Or at least never heard like THIS before. For instance, pushing a song that could very well have happily ended at the three or four-minute mark (Microcastle’s “Nothing Ever Happens” or this album’s “Desire Lines”) into a seven minute opus of guitar virtuosity not because they’re showing off most likely because they really, really loved making the dang thing.

Uhm, now where was I? Oh that’s right. Heh, for a minute there I lost myself (different band, Reg!) The reason I get so amped when listening to or even just thinking about Deerhunter is that their music evolves. Very often it does so WHILE you’re listening to it. More often than not, what you thought you may have heard the first time around with certain tracks sounds slightly different the next time through. This is because Cox and co. tend to add so many layers of sound into just about every track that it takes several listens to peel back most of the layers. Therein lies the key to what makes Deerhunter’s music click.

Halcyon Digest, and Deerhunter’s music in general rewards listening. I mean after all, that’s what music is for, right? You don’t just put this on in the background while you do other tasks, you put this on and listening to it immediately becomes the thing that you’re doing. Opening track “Earthquake” is a perfect example of the Deerhunter songwriting philosophy. Starting off very minimally with some acoustic guitar, an occasional drum “thwack” and Cox’s lonely vocals,  the song grows right before your very ears as layer upon layer of instrumentation and effects are weaved into the song’s structure. At its apex the track literally washes over you and it is my recommendation that you do not fight it. The album highlight is the single “Helicopter.” It’s the most beautiful song of Deerhunter’s career and possibly the most beautiful song I’ve heard all year (Beach House’s “Silver Soul” is still hangin’ in there.) Here is a link to the band’s website for the video as well as the story that inspired the song, or you can just check out the video below:

Taking this tragic tale of a Russian male prostitute and shaping it into this gorgeous ballad that perfectly captures the sadness, pain and disillusionment of its subject is the single greatest accomplishment of Deerhunter’s still relatively young existence. According to Thom Yorke, “Fake Plastic Trees” was the song in which he and Radiohead truly found their voice, I believe “Helicopter” is that moment for Deerhunter.

Thankfully, you — the listener — don’t have that much time to dwell on the weight of “Helicopter” because the band follows it up with a couple of outstanding up beat tracks, “Fountain Stairs” and the E Street Bandish “Coronado.” The highlight of “Coronado” is, well, it’s the employment of a saxophone. Yes, a saxophone. If you had told me a couple of years ago while I was repeatedly digesting Microcastles and Weird Era Cont. that Deerhunter would rock out with a saxophone on their next album I would have questioned your, and their, sanity. And yet. And yet…it works. Vocally Cox channels Lou Reed and Julian Casablancas on a rollicking bouncing track built around a couple of jazzy sax solos and ending with Cox and the sax dueling it out. It’s a totally unexpected treat but never for a second does it come across as a gimmick. I can’t even imagine what the track would sound like without it.

Halcyon Digest wraps up with the Jay Reatard tribute track, “He Would Have Laughed.” I’ll be honest I don’t really know much about Jay Reatard so I don’t know I don’t know how fitting a tribute it is. What IS interesting to me is the cliffhanger fashion in which the song ends. You would think that seven and a half minutes is long enough for a rock song yet Deerhunter make it seem like it’s not enough time by cutting the song abruptly. The metaphor is obvious without being heavy-handed.

Deerhunter, who with Microcastles made one of the most vital albums of the previous decade, have already put their stamp on the NEXT decade. Halcyon Digest is about memories lost, imagined or just plain forgotten. It is about the delicately selective nature of memory and how in this day and age of digital everything, it is vital that the memories we have are real. Days of future quickly become days of future past. We have the capacity to record every minute of our waking lives on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Flickr but what Deerhunter is trying to say is that we can never confuse these digitally constructed social outlets for the genuine experience of being human.

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Kafé Marmelad

So I actually did manage to get to Marmelad on Friday. Oh man. I’d say the only thing that really sucks about Kafé Marmelad is that’s all the way over in bloody Majorna. Other than geography I would say that Kafé Marmelad has to be considered one of the best in the city. Present (and previous) employer(s) aside, I would dare say that overall, Marmelad IS the best café in the city. The serve really good coffee — Johan & Nyström — judging by the wall o’ trophies they appear to have a very talented and knowledgeable staff and the layout of the cafe is pure dynamite.

There are three levels of seating with the coolest by far being the lower level. When I got to the café I really had to, as the locals say, “borrow the toilet” (Google translate “låna toaletten” and tell me what you get.) The barista on duty directed me down the spiral staircase* to the downstairs lounge area which is also where the bathroom was, which I didn’t even see at first. No problem, as looking for the restroom allowed me to see the rest of the immaculate downstairs seating area. Here are a few pics of said downstairs seating area:

Seriously though,  Marmelad is really the first Göteborgian coffee shop I’ve seen that absolutely nails that same vibe that so many coffee shops in college towns and/or big cities in the U.S. have down pat. They’ve opted to not go for the Old Italian thing or even the Old Swedish thing and have just gone for the coziest of atmospheres combined with a very high level of coffee competency AND their coffee menu is straightforward and not at all intimidating. The joint is furnished largely with a Danish 50’s art deco style seating and a warm and mellow lighting. For my DC peeps, I was trying to think of a comparable café and I suppose Tryst is as close as it gets and really that’s a stretch. Like much of Göteborg, Marmelad is a lot more Baltimore than it is DC so there may not even be a DC equivalent, however, I could see it being plopped down as is right in the middle of Hampden. When I was there they were pumping some blues and soul (always a plus!) and it helped set just the right tone.

I’ll be honest, I have a serious big time crush on Kafé Marmelad.  They’ve seriously got it going on, they’re serious about coffee and at the same time the took considerable effort to make their cafe very inviting and comfortable. Despite the wall o’awards, there’s nothing at all that’s intimidating about Marmelad. Well maybe there was one thing. It’s just that even though Kafé Marmelad has a nice spacious restroom with a big ol’ changing station…how in the world do parents with babies get down to the restroom to use it? I’m not saying it’s impossible I’m just saying it ain’t the most stroller-friendly restroom in the world.

But I digress.

The bottom line is, Kafé Marmelad is an excellent café that would appeal equally to the coffee geek as it would to Joe Schmoe coffee drinker — or in this case — Johan Schmohan  kaffedrickare. Hejdå!

(These were the only photos I took but I think even in these the charm of Marmelad is apparent.)

 

If I were a regular, this would be my favorite spot!

 

*The best way to win me over as far as design goes is with a spiral staircase. You could have a staircase leading to nowhere and I’d still think it was awesome.

**UPDATE** Tyvärr, the spiral staircase is gone. However it’s been replaced by a much more parent-with-child friendly set of stairs that lead to the restroom and downstairs seating area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New cafés!

So I got this here shiny new blog and now I have a tad bit of actual content!

After school today I decided to go check out a café I had been meaning to check for a while called Marmelad, located in Majorna. As the 3 tram made it’s way down Viktoriagatan, I noticed what looked like a fairly newish looking café called daNino So at the next stop I hopped off the tram and went back to where I spotted this new café. My phone didn’t have enough battery power to take any pictures so I’ll have to go back and — with their permission of course — snap some photos. It’s another Italian-style café, something in which there are an abundance of in Gothenburg, but with a very sleek and modern design. Gahh, I’m such a bad blogger I can’t even remember the name of the espresso machine all I know is that is was big, white and had a big bright light on the side. And despite its massive size I’m pretty sure the machine only had two groups. Anyway, when placing my order (cappucino and one of their panini sandwiches) I said to one of the owners that I’d never seen this place before. That’s when she told me that today was their opening day! I can’t say I was blown away by the coffee but the decor is pretty sleek. It reminded me of Bar Italia with a touch of daMatteo (especially in their choice of lettering for their logo.)

After wishing the owners “lycka till” I set back out on my course to find Marmelad. On the tram, again, heading to Majorna I happened to spot what looked to be another new café about a block away from Bengans/Espressobaren (my very first employers here in Sweden! Thanks Bosco!) called St. Germain. I made note of its location figuring I’d hit it on the way back from Marmelad. The only problem is Marmelad wasn’t where I thought it was! Instead there was Eva’s Pianobar. Oops. Of course I could have just asked someone but, well, you know how we do. However, I figured Marmelad is an established joint, though, and it will be there later. I just needed to figure out where “there” is. My curiosity, though, was focused solely on this St. Germain place. So that’s exactly where I went. I hopped back on the tram and went back to where THAT café was located and boy am I glad I did!

I was greeted, in English, by the shop’s owner Chris. This place was only a week or so older than da Nino. On top of that, Chris and his wife have only been in Gothenburg for about three months! They serve Eguale coffee, a good choice. The look of the place is the real winner, sporting a very arsty and warm look with black and white photos from Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless,’ well that’s the one I remember because it’s one of my favorite films ever.

They offered a few tasty looking sandwiches, croissants and your typical pastries. I only had a single espresso though as I’d just had a cappucino at my previous pit stop. If I could recommend one thing it’s this. They had a sign outside offering “Fair Trade Coffee” which, to be fair, is what they were selling. Yet what I wanted was a simple cup of coffee and the only thing they offered was the very typical Swedish “svart kop kaffe” which translates to, an Americano. I hate Americanos. Eguale makes really good coffee, so let customers experience that. Americanos are the blandest, most basic form of caffeine delivery available. It’s (intentionally!) watered down espresso. Blech. Buy some French presses and encourage customers to sit down, relax and enjoy what could be a very awesome establishment.

These two cafés, along with the breathtakingly stylish Castellet, seem to be pointing to a new wave of cafés that offer both style and substance. Even though daNina is another entry in the Italian-style cafe that dominates the scene here, at least it’s done with a very modern flair and gusto, it’s more Lamborghini than Lancia. I would imagine if St. Germain is able to establish a regular clientele they will do quite well in that part of the city. I would recommend, though, that they seriously consider buying some French Presses, Siphon Brewers or Chemexes and really allow the quality of the coffee they serve to shine through. DaMatteo aside, it’s actually quite hard to go to a coffee shop in this town and just have a good cup of coffee that isn’t a freaking Americano.

Just sayin’ is all.

Hello world!

Okay so I have a blog now. I don’t really know what to do with it just yet. I just figured, y’know, why not?

I reckon eventually I’ll actually direct this thing towards something a bit more substantial. Perhaps I’ll write some music reviews, perhaps I’ll document my journey as a new(ish) father and as an expat.

I’ll just play it by ear.

So, yeah. There it is. My first blog entry. Yippee.