I'm an intermittent blogger, at best.
Although I worked on the website, Amazon was a scrappy company populated by Liberal Arts majors, and they let no talent lie unexploited. So I was also tasked with writing Amazon's official book and music reviews for some items in my areas of interest.
Involving mathematics, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, politics, and physics, Stuart Isacoff 's Temperament invokes the tone of a James Burke documentary. However, the focus is not on a modern invention, but rather a modern convention: that of tuning keyboards so that every key is equally in tune--and equally out of tune. With the existing literature tending to bog down in mathematical theory or historical tuning methods, Isacoff bravely attempts to make this seemingly arcane topic interesting to the general reader. He distills the mathematics and music theory into their simplest essences, and draws apt analogies from the everyday. He also generously peppers the text with the quirks and escapades of its more flamboyant central characters; the relevance of the information is often tenuous at best, but Isacoff has obviously done his homework, and he can be forgiven some frivolity. Less forgivable is his neglect of "well-temperament." Namesake of Bach's masterful collection of 24 pieces (one each in all the major and minor keys), the well-tempered keyboard liberated composers from the howl of badly tuned keys in the way equal temperament did, while preserving the distinct quality of each key. It was a pragmatic and aesthetically rich solution that captivated composers and theorists for decades. Yet Isacoff reserves less than two pages for its description. (Perhaps he deliberately overlooked the topic since it doesn't fit well with his casting of equal temperament's opponents as rigid, dogmatic, and impractical.) Despite its flaws, Temperament is an accessible guide to a fascinating topic seldom discussed outside musical circles. Though the book may not invigorate hard-core theorists, the amateur musician, armchair scientist, history buff, or plain old curious can glean plenty from it. The advent of digital keyboards--some of which can be tuned to historical temperaments at the flip of a switch--makes this an ideal time for the topic to be rejuvenated.
The 1980 release Black Sea represents the last stand of the punchy, angular new wave that had won XTC strong critical and college radio support. Still arranging with an ear toward the stage they'd soon retire from, they continued working in the "drums and wires" style that had christened their previous release. Black Sea brims with XTC trademarks: engaging guitar hooks, cleverly rendered lyrics, and frenetic, creative melodicism. The material represents the pinnacle of XTC's early incarnation--a counterpoint to contemporary punk imbued with style, rhythmic punch, and melodic charm.
"Relax. Don't Worry. Have a home-brew." It's the mantra of home-brewing, a phrase that nods to the technical aspects of brewing only as it dismisses all stress with a sip and a smile. Home-brewing is fun, after all. Charlie Papazian didn't just coin the term, he virtually spearheaded the home-brewing revival in America. Figurehead for the American Homebrewers Association and its membership magazine, Zymurgy, Papazian is one of the founding fathers of the modern home-brewing scene. Often touted as the home-brewer's bible, The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing charts a beginning brewer's course, keeping the focus on enjoying the process as well as the results of home-brewing. An easy-to-use table of ingredients helps the newly initiated design their own recipes, although many home-brewers happily spend years sampling those Papazian provides. Dozens of recipes for all levels of experience are here, christened with the most improbable (and irresistible?) names in home-brewing literature ("Toad Spit Stout," "Cheeks to the Wind Mild," and "Goat Scrotum Ale" among them). While Papazian's classic does cover a broad sweep of home-brewing techniques (including more advanced procedures like grain mashing and yeast culturing), it's more than just a home-brewer's guidebook. Papazian's personal take on the history of American brewing is an entertaining read for any beer enthusiast, and his laid-back, humor-driven style engages readers whether or not they've ever boiled up a brew. This book makes home-brewers almost as often as it helps them. If enthusiastic friends haven't convinced you to start home-brewing, The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing undoubtedly will.
In Wine for Dummies, Mary Ewing-Mulligan teams up with hubby and fellow wine educator Ed McCarthy to guide us on an exhaustive, entertaining trip around the enological--that's right, enological--world. Though clearly experts themselves (Ewing-Mulligan is one of a handful of Americans holding the rare title Master of Wine), the authors assure us that even the most basic knowledge will undermine the very notion of wine pretension. It's as simple as this: "This wine is named for a grape variety. This wine is named for a geographical region. When they make this kind of wine, it goes into this kind of bottle." And so on. By providing the context in which to begin exploring wine, Wine for Dummies can easily become the send-off for a lifelong education. McCarthy and Mulligan deflate many of the wine snob's attitudes; they assure us that most wine sold today is "good wine," and that any further distinctions made about wine are ultimately subjective. The practical, jovial mentoring the authors provide encourages readers to chart their own course toward drinking great wine (although the authors naturally recommend dozens of their own favorites along the way). In later chapters, McCarthy and Mulligan delve into more serious topics such as investing in and cellaring wine. Even these discussions seem appropriate, given that you'll probably find the allure of wine growing as its mystery subsides to the force of this superb introductory text.
When connoisseurs speak of wine as a long-term investment that can appreciate in gustatory (and monetary) value for decades, they usually refer to red Bordeaux, France's biggest and longest-lasting wine. But as the cachet of Bordeaux continues to attract legions of wine fanatics across the globe, the 90s have seen Bordeaux prices skyrocket. The importance of informed buying has never been more acute, and Parker's guide is simply the best available. Updated from the original 1985 edition, the third edition of Bordeaux is organized along the same lines as the region's wine classifications. After introducing the style, history, and techniques specific to each principal appellation, Parker discusses the featured châteaux in detail--from the techniques of the vintners to the peculiarities of the all-important terroir. Parker's ratings for the tasted vintages, based on the 100-point scale he popularized through The Wine Advocate, are the real crux of each winery's listing. Performing all his tastings in "single blind" style--where each wine is judged without knowledge of the price or producer, and only in context with similar wines--assures a measure of independence in the tastings. Big-name wines are often deflated, and many "also-rans" from the landmark quality classification of 1855 finally win their deserved recognition. The third edition naturally highlights the series of (mostly good) vintages that Bordeaux has seen since the release of the second edition in 1991, but it also includes updated tasting notes on the vintners and vintages Parker has revisited since that time. His opinions command such worldwide attention that, given time, either your palate or your wallet is bound to benefit from keeping up with Parker's advice.
Possibly the world's most famous beer writer, British author Michael Jackson has made an enviable living surveying the lure and the lore of this most democratic of beverages. His classic coffee-table textbooks, The New World Guide to Beer and Michael Jackson's Beer Companion, offer highly regarded overviews of the world's styles, traditions, and techniques. Along with a television documentary series, numerous articles in trade publications, and extensive touring, Jackson's guides have established the other Michael Jackson as one of the great promoters of great beer. With Ultimate Beer, Jackson homes in on the particulars: which beer, when, and why. After a concise overview of brewing ingredients and processes, Jackson explores a myriad of beers from every corner of the brewing world. His suggestions are organized by the situation in which they might best be enjoyed: from summer sippers to winter warmers, aperitifs to nightcaps. Enticing photography of each beer and its packaging accompanies Jackson's tasting notes, brief technical info, and product-specific tidbits. Then, Jackson indulges further with chapters on matching particular beers to particular dishes, and follows that up with a brief guide to cooking with beer. The guiding principle of Jackson's writing--that which he shares with any beer enthusiast--is that beer, like wine, is best enjoyed when served at the right time, in the right conditions, and with the right dish. This book is Michael Jackson's very personal attempt to point the way to enjoying that Ultimate Beer.
Belgium must be Michael Jackson's idea of heaven. The diversity, individuality, and ubiquity of beer in that country astounds even the beer sophisticate. Belgians lay claim to dozens of brewing styles that, motley as they are, read like a royal registry of beer: Lambics, Abbey Ales, Belgian Whites, Strong Golden Ales, Trappist Ales, Belgian Browns. Consider the Lambic brewer's "wind through the rafters" approach, in which wild yeast and airborne bacteria are responsible for the fermentation process and the otherworldly flavor characteristics of the final product. The brewing style is so dependent on the microflora of the greater Brussels area that it cannot be successfully duplicated anywhere else in the world. Jackson exposes the history and inner workings of this quiet, quirky brewing behemoth with characteristic thoroughness and enthusiasm. We learn the origins of monastic brewing, the good fortune of spiders in Lambic breweries, and the reasoning behind using orange peels, coriander seeds, and three years' worth of stale hops in the brewing process. Ample tasting notes of commercial Belgian products--from those famous worldwide to those available only locally--provide a reference point for the reader's own beer hunting. A few bottles of Belgian brew and a copy of Great Beers of Belgium are as close to a brewing tour of Belgium one can get, short of visiting the country itself. Such armchair exploration, with Jackson as a guide, may be just the revelation that makes a physical trip irresistible.
Get Wine Brats in your brain, and you'll cast aside those fruit-salad-style wine reviews, drive your four-wheeled wine storage facility down to the bottle barn, and find some juice that doesn't suck. You'll be moved to throw a vino soirée... even if you only own three plates that match. There you have it: Wine Brats is the first translation of a wine-lovin' guide into the Gen-X language. A collection of essays centered on the way "real people" might acquaint themselves with wine, the guide has four divisions, best described as education, celebration, vinification, and geekification. Behind the irreverent humor infusing many of the essays, the guide is replete with studiously down-to-earth advice on wine. Yes, Jack in the Box grub complements Gallo of Sonoma Cab, and it's even better if you "supersize this one by hitting the 'repeat' button on Jimmy Buffett's 'Cheeseburger in Paradise'". But just a few chapters away, a Master of Wine is further deconstructing the myths of food and wine pairings through one of the book's freshest technical passages. Wine Brats Coalition members, including the Sonoma-raised editors of this eclectic volume, make one thing clear: they're very serious about taking wine life a lot less seriously.
While authors of entry-level brewing books do well to alleviate the fears of anxious new brewers, advanced writers benefit from a pointedly informative approach. Dave Miller's dry, technically versed style has earned him widespread respect through his own publications as well as his work with Brewing Techniques, the first-rate magazine for small-scale brewers. Really an update to his classic Complete Handbook of Home Brewing, Dave Miller's Homebrewing Guide is clear enough to introduce advanced techniques to the average home-brewer, yet thorough enough to provide a permanent reference for the expert. Miller manages to improve upon his earlier book--itself one of the finest advanced brewing books available--by updating and better organizing the information. While the Homebrewing Guide does provide a cursory introduction to basic brewing techniques and a sampling of supplementary topics (kegging, filtration), its real value is in the thoroughness and clarity with which all-grain brewing is described. Grain mashing, for instance, is discussed in three different chapters: a summary of various mashing techniques, a description of the underlying biochemistry, and a step-by-step description of the mashing process. By compartmentalizing the information into short chapters and carefully organizing their sequence, Miller creates a guide that can be read straight through as an initiation to advanced brewing or easily referenced for specific information on brew day.
Part 1 of Designing Great Beers is a complete book in itself, focused solely on home-brewing ingredients and techniques (including three superb chapters on hops alone). Ray Daniels proves himself the "techie" type, infusing his introductory chapters with as much brewing math as brewing lore. Yet, Daniels never hops off the deep end of beer geekdom. Instead, he complements this emphasis on data with the creative use of graphics; where one could get bogged down in the stats, there is usually a clear visual depiction to instantly summarize their meaning. This focus on facts continues into part 2 of Daniels's guide, where it backs an admirably pragmatic take on beer styles and their importance in home-brewing. Daniels devotes a chapter to each of 14 major style categories, detailing historical origins and modern brewing techniques. He lays a contemporary groundwork by compiling and analyzing the recipes of the National Homebrew Competition's most successful beers. The assumption is that beers deemed representative of particular beer styles in modern competitions serve as ideal models for recipe creation. Among the information provided for each style is a chart showing the percentage of brewers using each type of grain and in what proportions the grains were added. Similar data are supplied for hop varieties, yeast strains, and water treatment. This reverse engineering of award-winning beers naturally benefits experienced brewers seeking to wow judges at the next competition. Yet, even brewers taking their first shy steps into creating their own recipes have much to gain from this kind of practical analysis. Daniels provides the basic tools a brewer of any level can use to formulate recipes with confidence and creativity.
For some time, I made a promise to myself to produce a Haiku documenting every rock show I saw in Seattle. Sometimes I think I should reboot this project for the countless events I attend in New York City.
by Todd Gehman
- The Knitters
- Tim Seely, Jesse Sykes, and Nicolai Dunger
- Band of Horses
- The Rosebuds and Teenage Fanclub
- Anna Coogan and North 19
- Two Cow Garage and Grand Champeen
- The Ponys
- Dinosaur Jr.
- Fruit Bats
- The Redwalls and OK Go
- The Black Crowes with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Son Volt
- The High Dials and Brian Jonestown Massacre
- Hater and Dead Moon
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
- Michael Penn
- Black Keys
- Holy Ghost Revival, Two Gallants, and Portastatic
- Bar Tabac
- Sigur Ros
- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
- John Vanderslice
- Fiery Furnaces
- The Frames
- The Dirty Three
- Concentus Musicus Wien
- Bats of Belfry, Band of Horses, and Okkervil River
- "All-Star Tribute to The Who"
- Korby Lenker
- Seattle Rock Lottery