Two truisms: we all have distinct tastes and we all enumerate them in one form or another. Here I meet expectations and list my favorite music artists, a video link to what I consider a quintessential track for each, and the beverages that most represent them.
- Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree/Blackfield/No-Man/Bass Communion/IEM/Storm Corrosion: This starts with Porcupine Tree, but it is so hard to separate Steven Wilson from all of his projects. These are all fascinating experiences ranging from hard prog-rock, to krautrock, to intellectual pop, to ambient/drone, to experimental rock. With Porcupine Tree, Wilson (along with some of the finest musicians in the business) has created the perfect synthesis of prog, metal, psychedelic, alt-rock, and ambient forms. Lyrics are almost exclusively melancholic (though ironic humor often courses through) with themes of generational angst/apathy, anger at nothing and everything, emotional disorder. You gotta love a guy whose works are so dark, melancholic, and socially astute but still is not so serious as to shy away from calling one of his bands The Incredible Expanding Mindfuck. Wilson may be the most prolific man in rock over the last 20+ years but is still, more or less, a cult artist. I recognize him as rock music’s most erudite voice of the first 10+ years of 21st century. Porcupine Tree is also the most engaging live band I have ever seen, too (eight times and counting).
“Way Out of Here” — There are a handful of songs I prefer over this one, but I think this gives the best example of what Porcupine Tree is all about. Plus, everyone in the band plays an important role in this song (pretty common for PT, actually). Steven Wilson’s and John Wesley’s guitar and vocals are powerful counterbalances.
He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA— My favorite beer on the planet. Brings together several elements (eight malts and seven hops) with a reverence for the irreverence of Lenny Bruce as well while decidedly modern. Rich and supple with an exceptionally well masked and dangerously drinkable 10% alcohol punch. Its darkness, density, and complex melange of difficult flavors yet deceivingly easy drinkability that makes you want to come back for more is Steven Wilson in liquid form.
- Bob Mould/Hüsker Dü/Sugar/LoudBomb: Mould’s “wall of noise” guitar with Hüsker Dü influenced countless guitarists and is largely referenced as a progenitor of “grunge”. Beyond that legacy, Mould is one of the finest song writers of the last 25 years capturing universal themes love/loss, heartbreak, mistakes, untended wounds, addiction, and personal trauma in a poetically down-to-earth voice. During my pre-teen and teen years, Mould was just a rock god to me, blending hardcore American punk with a catchy pop melodicism. Most importantly, his lyrics made sense to me (most ironically, in the song “Makes No Sense”), seemingly speaking, albeit vaguely, to much the same confusion, anger, and heartbreak I was feeling. In the years since coming out in the early ’90’s, Mould seems to be a new man. Much more sure of himself and comfortable in his own skin, he has put many of his earlier conflicts behind him and now kicks ass in a more wizened, relaxed, and joyful way.
“Circles” — My strongest memories of Bob are from 1989’s Workbook solo tour, but this recent song is a beautiful sign that he’s still got it.
Water— in honor of Bob’s sobriety. Alcohol was his greatest nemesis, but look at him now—the fittest and, clearly, happiest he’s been in his life. Take a drink of whatever you like, but follow it with a glass of water.
- Lyle Lovett: When, as a 15 year-old, I first saw Lyle Lovett perform “She’s No Lady” on Late Night with David Letterman in 1988, I was hooked. Here was a guy whose interests and influences seemed as varied and incongruous as mine looking as awkward and uncomfortable as humanly possible on live TV singing a song of such incredible humor and undeniable style that I was mesmerized. His lyrics make a lot more sense to me now than then, but, as strong a lyricist as Lovett is, what still enthralls me is his impeccable songwriting range. Lovett simply squeezes every last bit of passion, honesty, pain, irony, and wit into every last song he writes as skilled with silly turns of phrase as he is with George Jones-ian heartache. There is no compromise—just plain awesome country/swing/pop at every turn. Also, one of the most satisfying live acts (I’ve seen him half-a-dozen times now) who consistently surrounds himself with musicians of the highest calibre that so overtly share his love of the music they perform.
“What Do You Do?” — While the dark and/or melancholy bases are covered by other in this list (I do prefer Lovett’s “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”, “Pontiac” and “Lights of LA County”, to name a few), this is the prototypical Large Band song. And, who can deny Francine Lee’s power?
D-Cubed Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2007— Texans love domestic macro-brews and Dr. Pepper. Neither of those fit L. L. particularly well. Texas also has an exceptionally long and successful wine-making history, but you’re not likely to find Texan wines outside of the South West, so I’ll forgo that temptation. This Zin has a Dr. Pepper-like spicebox angle that should get Texans giddy. Given its richness, complexity, spice, and fruit-sweetness—never at the expense of balance and finesse—it could just as easily be called “L-Squared”.
- Morphine: Morphine was my Grateful Dead. This band spoke to me on a fundamental level and if I could have afforded to, I would have followed them all over the world. I frequently refer to Morphine as the first definitive musical voice of the new millennium though they pre-dated it and folded in 1999 (due to the untimely on-stage death of genius front-man, Mark Sandman) because they captured the uncertainty, self-absorption, and apathy of the time with a sound that melded rock, jazz, and blues in an entirely new, experimental-yet-accessible way. This new sound, comprised primarily of drums, baritone sax, a homemade electric two-string slide bass, and Sandman’s low, monotone vocals was intoxicating and could, surprisingly, rock. There was nothing like them when they hit the scene and there will be nothing like them again.
“All Wrong”/Whisper” — The sound level is pretty low on this upload, but this is a crisp live performance by the band. “All Wrong” is pretty much the archetypal jumpin’ Morphine track and “Whisper” is a prime example of their sultrier numbers.
Los Nahuales Mezcal Reposado— Known as Los Danzantes in Mexico but labeled as Los Nahuales in the USA due to trademark conflict with a high-production Pinot Grigio brand from Marchesi di Frescobaldi. The quintessence of the new breed of sipping mezcal. The singular flavor of agave fruit fights through a profound Islay-like smokiness and peppery spice. Tastes just like my memory of the smoke-filled/sweat-laden Black Cat in D. C. in 1993 when I first saw Morphine and spoke briefly to Mark Sandman who was standing at a red velvet upholstered wingback near the bar after the show.
- Kate Bush: Bush as always been more about fulfillment of a philosophical ideal than of consistent, marketable product (though critical and popular response to her work may belie that). Truly a serious performance artist (in the vein of Laurie Anderson or early Wall of Voodoo) who actually had the pop songwriting and performing chops to reach a large audience without ever compromising her integrity. What is not to like about that? Well, the sometimes screeching nature of her vocals in the early going or the seemingly pretentious theatrics of her stage performances or the obtuseness of her lyrics (by comparison to her pop contemporaries) seemed to put some people off. But those elements never bothered me as they were components of her big picture as a performance artist first and pop star a distant second. The fact remains, though, that she could (can) write and perform some of the most alarmingly beautiful, intellectual pop songs I have ever heard. Really, she is a genius. A prodigy who, in 1978 at 19 years-old, release the first UK #1 single written and performed by a female artist, “Wuthering Heights”, her star would only shine brighter through the ’80’s. In 1993 Bush called it quits at the peak of her fame to devote herself to family only to return 12 years later with a new album, Aerial, a stunningly gorgeous release with which she showed she had kept with the times while never losing her distinct voice (though her actual vocals have become more subdued, breathy, and alluring). Her two 2011 releases confirm she has returned with conviction and I couldn’t be mushier about it.
“King of the Mountain” — Upon first listen of this impeccably produced, multi-layered work which opens Bush’s first album in 12 years, I was immediately enthralled and shocked that she had come back with such force. The song is a strange mash-up of Elvis and Citizen Kane themes, and every bit as intriguing as that combination seems.
Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Erstes Gewachs 2007 — I should state that, to me, Riesling is the world’s most noble white wine grape and, despite all the terrible plonk out there that most people associate with Riesling, the most compelling white wines I have ever tasted have been from this most gorgeous and versatile grape. This particular bottling is my favorite all-time Riesling. Dry, citrusy, stony, petrol-y, floral, and unctuously textured. Its complexity and broadness on the palate reflects Bush’s silky lushness yet airy lightness.