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elastic_daysRainy days are great in Los Angeles; it lends another perspective to this sunny city, bathing seldomly under wet skies, LA looks cleaner, the food magically tastes better and my music becomes livelier. I tend to shorten the stacks, playing the same records over and over when it rains. I’ve conditioned myself to believe that Astral Weeks is synonymous with dew drops and suddenly will come out of my slumber on jazz. Art Blakey drums in rain time. It’s rare we get much here, so when it was on the forecast last week, it presented an opportunity to find new rainy-day favorites. Since time allowed, I filled my stem with something suited to be a catchall—in this case, a glass of 2016 Guillot-Broux ‘Les Genevieres’ rouge that was riding tableside, while I thumbed through my newer records.

One of the newest in my collection happened to be from Dinosaur Jr. front-man J. Mascis titled Elastic Days, released last November, and before I go any further, I must admit that I am big fan of their/ his music… an obsession that has stuck since middle school. J. Mascis’s new work was a pared down effort, more intimate, and I had given it a few casual listens earlier (when I first purchased it in December, amongst holiday shopping), but nothing as concentrated as this time.

I put it on the platter, spinning through the A side and immediately was awestruck. It took me back to when I first listened to Dinosaur Jr. The thing that has always struck me when listening to them, or later solo efforts, has been J’s delivery. The first song that I that I couldn’t stop listening to was Start Choppin’ thanks to skateboarding videos when I was thirteen. Start Choppin’ was one of the coolest songs I had ever heard; It began with a simple little pop riff and then unfurled into a layered masterpiece that fused everything from falsettos to epic guitar solos and would send me off running to purchase my first CD of theirs.

While Elastic Days doesn’t bring the power of ‘Where You Been’ or other Dinosaur Jr. releases—nor is it trying to—it demonstrates why J. Mascis will forever hold a special place—like Yo La Tengo—between my ears. His maturity and songwriting are simple, straightforward and enjoyable to listen to. The dude makes melodies look easy. As the years continue, the songs are distilled, so while he can shred on the guitar like a Jimmy Page, his perceived vocal diffidence provides an endearing counterpoint.

When the rain really came down, I noticed it again, but honestly the record wasn’t hitched to rain drops quite like Chopin’s prelude or even encapsulated in a pop tune like that of the Cascades. Elastic Days made me feel a little warmer than the current weather let on—a folksy vibe painted early evenings on sunnier days. A reprieve, in fact.

By the time I moved into the B side I was fully on board, I heard new material that felt like a natural progression of where some of my favorite Dinosaur Jr. tracks had left me years earlier. He featured duets and a wider tapestry of instruments, including trading in his own axe for an acoustic guitar on a few songs, but kept the record thematically true and warm.

I finished my glass of Pinot Noir as I reached ‘Elastic Days,’ the namesake of the album. The wine was docile, showing hibiscus, red berries and possessed a savory crunch that, although not a perfect pairing, was a good partner for the music as it allowed me to savor that well-shaped guitar line and those vulnerable lyrics.

There were a few other tracks that made me pause like See You At The Movies (the single), I Went Dust, Sometimes and Wanted You Around. This record was just so far beyond my expectations and remained on my turntable all weekend. The rain has come and gone, so has that bottle of Macon Rouge, but what I am left with is a deeper appreciation for J. Mascis.

What are some of your favorites to listen to when it rains?

 

tongueEvolution of taste shouldn’t be surprising; it’s a fact that when I started this blog my penchant for hamburgers and a glass of wine was insatiable rather than just a passing trend. Time passed. Burgers have been supplanted by aguachile, and my wines, which were once mostly red, have been more and more exchanged for white wines and bubbles. My musical tastes have taken a dramatic swing too, widening genres so that I am often sifting through country and classical music crates at flea markets, trying to satisfy my analog cravings, as opposed to having my tastes rooted in the Pacific Northwest for all its indie rock iterations. These changes are positives… with more exposure comes the ability to home in on new favorites, travel to new places (figuratively and literally), and enrich my foundation. These changes will also help me reengage with writing and shift my focus on this space—not limiting my scope to only hamburgers and wine, but to open it up to new wine and new music—amidst all the changes in my life these two different activities have had me enthused and enthralled consistently, and I will try to weave them organically together in this column going forward.

Before I go head first into Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in e or Little Jimmy Dickens’ ‘Country Boy’ and try to find a wine, subjectively, that complements both,—though, I will try to keep this less restrictive and make it a whole lot more playful… I also encourage you, the reader, to get involved and issue recommendations to broaden my palate like a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi over grilled chicken tails (couldn’t resist!).

In terms of output, I don’t want to put heavy expectations on my writing like Kliff Kingsbury, in resurrecting my site. However, I do have more free time and this can prod me, along with piano practice, to stimulate myself in those idle moments, that just scrolling through Netflix and falling asleep on my couch cannot possibly do. I know this smacks of a New Year’s resolution, but unlike most of those made with wide-eyed inspiration at the turn of the calendar year, this is easier to maintain on my current schedule.

No rebranding is necessary with the rebirth of this site—although there is nothing overly maverick about me—I will still adhere to keeping this blog approachable for those who are beginners in wine, music and food as I am by no means an expert. It’s true that my love for Zinfandel has waned—save finickiness for the right producer—and hamburgers are no longer required weekly fare, I hope to preserve the same carefree attitude since… little Jimmy and I can both agree that “[we] hate those folks who think that they’re so doggone high falutin .”

Saget SB

Happy New Year! I apologize for my absence toward the end of year (!) and am resolved to be more present, writing more, and fulfilling some of the themes I left on the backburner last year. Let’s get to it.

I’m sure most French listeners would appreciate the genuine timbre of Pete Seeger’s signing. I’m struck deeply by those old scratchy recordings, the phrasing and the sentiment of his lyrics—simple and effective. I wanted to find a wine to match—a wine so penetrating that it might strike a chord with me no matter the price or place. My first post of the New Year comes from humble beginnings, an everyday drinker from the Loire.

The Loire Valley is an enchanting and expansive zone in Northwest France, producing a great range of wines from the light, crisp and mineral-driven Melon Blanc in Muscadet to the vaunted Pineau de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) found in those delicious Quarts de Chaumes. It’s also the home of some of the greatest Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and though declassified, my sample bottle of La Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc from Saget La Perriere was ideal for accompanying my night spinning the hauntingly beautiful Almanac Singers record.

I unscrewed the seven-fifty, poured out a healthy six-ounce glass to the tune of “I don’t Want Your Millions, Mister (All I Want),” and analyzed the Vin de France for its character. Golden with medium tears (the beads of wine clinging to the glass) showing a fragrant bouquet (medium-plus intensity) of wet blades of grass, fresh-squeezed limes, green apple and minerals. On the palate it was dry with notes similar to the nose, and decent body (medium), balanced by refreshing acidity and possessing a good finish (medium).

Though Saget La Perriere is not a small-scale producer, they are family owned, passing through nine generations and where they do not own the land, they have longstanding relationships with the farmers they purchase from. For the price, the value-minded Sauvignon Blanc over-delivered. Most likely it would satiate those thirsting for Sancerre but unable to dole out the money for their favorite producers on a Wednesday evening. I think, like me, even Pete would’ve agreed that this was a charming white wine.

I don’t get as excited anymore about upcoming concerts. Perhaps it is my conservative nature or old soul showing through, but even those all-star billed festivals don’t always rouse my neck hairs the way they used to; it takes magic when you get there to make the event enduring. There are a few major exceptions—M. Ward being one of them. I go “outta my head” every time I see have seen him perform. This is the first tour of his in a long time that I wasn’t able to purchase tickets, late to the show and shutout from a good time. I was forced to commiserate, playing the latest album—A Wasteland Companion—alone, in my living room. After spinning through the new record I wondered what would pair best with his scratchy timbre.

I made a conjecture for something that would be as mellow as the acoustic guitar-work while possessing those earthy characteristics and power that are as genuine as his lyrics, reaching for a Pinot Noir. I wanted old world, somewhere deep in Burgundy like Pommard in the Côte de Beaune, that often extracts a lot of power from the thin-skinned grape but remembered that I was working on a wine buyer budget. Instead, a domestically grown Pinot Noir became an obvious choice: Evening Land “Blue Label” Pinot Noir.

The Oregon based Pinot would be an acceptable substitute for Burgundy, based on the spice and underbrush that pin themselves to the prominent cranberry and red cherry flavors that are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest terroir. Also, the “Blue Label” is attractively priced ($21-24) for its pedigree.

I thumbed through my collection, skipping singles and going for some of my favorite full lengths that M had created. My first time seeing M. Ward, he performed from his then current album Transfiguration of Vincent where I had been made a fan by listening to his melancholy song “Undertaker.” I thought that this record would be the best place to prove my hypothesis. I would later segue into other works—Post-War and End of Amnesia—up until his most current album. My own private sound stage.

Uncorking the blue seven-fifty to the tune of “Duet for Guitars #3,” a Fahey-esque track that showed off an original composition rooted in tribute much like the wine. The aural homage to John Fahey, and maybe even Leo Kottke, was shared with the base level Pinot from Oregon that had a French hand (albeit French Canadian); Isabelle Meunier with help from other compatriotes and consulting winemaker Dominique LaFon (truly French) helped craft an exciting Oregon expression.

The heady and subjective experiment seemed to be paying dividends early on as I sipped the wine. Armed with soft tannins (medium -) cupping vibrant red fruits (raspberries, cherries, and strawberries), with dashes of cupboard spices and to keep it grounded, the organic soils that accompany some of my favorite Pinot Noir. That touch of earthiness lent itself nicely with the throaty delivery on “O’Brien,” which to me was the pinnacle of the combination.

The flavors of the Pinot did not diminish; the finish was long and continued to offer up more the further I went into the sound experiment. By the third disc the pairing seemed to be natural, both worked to elevate me to nirvana.

Successful and completely my own, it was shy only of getting to see M. Ward live but not by much. I felt that in place of going French, I had a suitable alternative because I was pairing it with domestic folk rock. The blend of M.Ward’s discography with Evening Land Pinot Noir from Oregon was seamless, bearing a common thread of rusticity in the most elegant way. After the last album played through and my spiritualized state wore off, I vowed to never delay on buying tickets for one of my favorite artists again. It really is possible to sip wine alone to a good tune and summon some magic without being a desolate drunk, but it makes me relish the concert experience more when I’m lucky enough to get there.

In the opening of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the author makes mention of the finest musical accompaniment to boiling pasta, Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture under the direction of Claudio Abbado, and that idea has never let me go. I began asking a battery of questions: What album would I spin while making pasta, or more pertinent to this blog, what wine would I sip with that Les Paul Trio vinyl?

Dilemmas: what music pairs with an unctuous Petite Sirah from Unti Vineyards, or what wine is best served with the latest Cake single? There is a lot in a wine that could, or could not jive with an album like too many drying tannins with a Mahler symphony, making the music more emotional than need be, or not enough body in a Pinot Noir to support the bombastic clamor of Sepultura. How about matching the land and the artist, it is easy when we think of Tom Waits, since he hails from Sonoma County, a land replete with amazing wineries, but that theory falls apart when I think of Glenn Miller. Lots of pitfalls.

The concept of pairing music and wine extends itself to the restaurant scene. When I am in a restaurant, especially drinking wine at one of my favorite boutique eateries in Los Angeles—Lucques—I begin to study the choices, judging how well the mood is complimented by the non-invasive-indie-esque music. They are pretty effective at marrying the two and I hope my efforts will be as fortuitous and rewarding.

Enthralled by the sweet melodies of the Magnetic Fields and their 69 Love Songs (it is February after all), I instantly think of my first love. But more pressingly, what would I drink with Stephen Merrit’s irreverent lyrics? Maybe something French—a little culture behind the wine, to go with the thought of the one that got away and still espouse the music perfectly. Perhaps a wine from Bandol, made of Mourvèdre—rustic and charming—but then I remember something more apt; a wine to mend the memories of an intense heartache and one of my favorite bands—a Beaujolais cru from Morgon.

The 69 Love Songs are a collection of tunes that run the gamut of emotions, upbeat and frolicking carelessly to little more than macabre fantasies, and with that vast spectrum, a wine adept at handling the minutest change in mood would be required; a wine synonymous with versatility.

The Morgon Cru from Marcel Lapierre sprung to mind. I have written about it a couple of times, remarking on its uncanny ability to pair with Holiday fare and simple enough to enjoy on its own or in the company of a Valentine. I feel this wine would be an ideal fit for all 69 songs.

Now my first foray into pairing wine and music wasn’t so hard, rather successful in fact. What remains is the more daunting task of pairing a lot of my country records like Bob Wills, Hank Snow and even Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jew Boys to the vin de pays. Going forward, it will be challenging to pair the nuances in terroir with various forms of music (Pearl Jam and Red Devil Merlot?) harmoniously. Haruki Marukami’s literature is rife with musical references, something emotional and familiar to him, and in essence I am writing this post (and the future series) with intent of engaging you by sharing something personal of mine and hearing about your favorite pairings of wine and music. I am now taking requests.

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Wine of the Month

Roumier Morey St. Denis 'Clos de la Bussiere' 2008

Eatery of the Month

aguachile

Jesse's Camarones Restaurant

Musical Accompaniment

Glenn Kotche’s ‘Ping Pong Fumble Thaw’  by The Brooklyn Rider Almanac