Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tastes of the East

OK, I'm sure that I'm flying in the face of all sorts of sage advice and etiquette here, but I'm about to blog while under the influence.

Yes, I'm slightly tipsy. More like pissed as a newt.

I've just had a splendid meal accompanied by splendid drinks at a splendid restaurant with better-than-expected company (it was a work shindig, after all) and I feel compelled to share this with you.

Vij's. Quite possibly the best restaurant in Vancouver. Not the priciest, not the most sumptuous, but the best.

Modern Indian cuisine done with thought and wisdom and artistry and verve and passion. And without pretense. Not a drop.

No reservations taken, but the 90-minute wait was passed happily quaffing pale ales and noshing on endless circulating platters of pakoras and cassava fries.

The genial Vikram Vij circulates and serves and buses and informs and frets over you.

Sweet, sweet, ripe, ripe mango and bitter gourd in a counterpunctual coconut and date sauce.

Perfect lamb tenderloin cooked as perfectly as a wee lamb tenderloin could hope to be cooked. Encrusted with pistachio and Indian spices, and cloaked in a light cream curry.

Pistachio ice cream laced with cardamom, a spice that makes me weep with delight.

And the drinks.

I was conquered by the Dark Army.

Appleton dark rum. Mango juice. Lime juice. Garam masala.

Ohboy. Two please. Right away. Like a real sour whiskey sour, or a mojito, with a dazzling spiciness.

Dear Friend, if you visit I will take you there and we will have a wonderful time.

And so, a grand reason to post a couple of tracks from a recently rediscovered East-Meets-West album, first heard on a fabulous mixtape made a dozen years or so ago by my Dearest Friend and sometimes commentor, Bishakh. Monsoon formed in the early 1980s as a serendipitous fusion of the delightfully evocative voice of Sheila Chandra and the pop sensibilities of an Indophile producer/writer Steve Coe. A beautiful album and a top ten UK hit ('Ever So Lonely') resulted in 1982, but stifling artist-label conflict ensued, the group shattered, and Chandra went on to pursue a successful, if sidestream, solo career.

So listen to the fluidity, clarity, and exotic lustre of these musical dishes.

Pity there are no Dark Armies to accompany them...

Monsoon - Third Eye and Tikka TV
Monsoon - Shakti (The Meaning of Within)
Monsoon - Ever So Lonely

(Buy the one and only Monsoon album here)

And I promise Camera Obscura next. Promise. You are so patient...

Currents and Tides

Sunset on the Georgia Strait
Somewhere between Mayne Island and Vancouver
July 2006

Dearest Friends, I'm back. But you probably already noted that from the last post. It's just taken me awhile to get fully up and running again. You see, it's this bachelor thing - I'm still trying to re-learn how to fend for myself with Dearest Wife and children away in splendid isolation until the beginning of September.

Laundry. Plant care. Cooking.

And the like.

Pretty pathetic, really. But true.

The long weekend on Mayne Island was lovely. But rushed. Rushed, rushed, rushed. Constant motion, coming and going. Dressing children, taking children out, cleaning children up, feeding children. Getting to market by 10:00 AM to get fresh fruit & veg, minister coming over at 11:00 AM to discuss Beloved Mother-in-Law's graveside service. What to eat, when to eat, where to eat. Pack up, head for ferry, head home, feed, iron shirts, sleep.

Mind you, there were beautiful islets of calm and mindfulness, made all the more meaningful by the background hubbub.

A splendid half-hour spent with Darling Daughter on a rocky seaside outcrop, watching, awestruck and electrified, as a pod of two dozen orcas frolicked, jumped, snorted, and splashed their way past us, not a hundred feet away.

Another spent pootling along a beach with Little Man, collecting shells and sea glass, counting galaxies of outrageously purple starfish, flipping rocks to watch the crabby crabs scatter, and discovering the amazingness of kelp.

But hélas, these islets were only briefly visited, before being covered by a flow tide of mundanities and imperatives.

However, Dear Readers, 'tis powerful strange. The whorling currents, the hectic undertow, the stressful froth, I have a sense that they are all pushing me -- us -- somewhere. Where, I do not know. Nor when. But I have a peculiar, ethereal sense that things are unfolding as they should.

Love & Rockets - It Could Be Sunshine (buy here or, for the cyber-minded, here)

Shifting gears, I have a cornocupia of music, the contents of which I've meaning to share with you for some time. Today it's a couple of local gems that I picked up a few weeks back at the opium den that is Zulu Records. Blackavar is fronted by Vancouver singer-songwriter Laura Cartwright, whose quasi-offkey voice spins a thick, husky web of dark, resonant, folkishness. Think Nico meets Hope Sandoval for a shot of whisky and a smoke in a rambling, tumbledown house filled with poignant memories, heavy disappointments, and rich longings. I find the self-titled album as a whole somewhat uneven, but the knockout tracks alone are worth the price of admission. Music for those tired of summer and yearning for autumnal melancholia.

Blackavar - Murder of Crows (buy here)
Blackavar - Your Eyes (I said, buy here)

The other Vancouver offering I have for you is the shoegazey album 'The Picture Plane' by Hinterland. Yes, it's all there: dreamy vocals by one Michaela Galloway, richly layered soft-LOUD-soft guitars, and more lush texture than you can run your dainty little fingers through. Did I say "Lush?" The band recorded a version of Miki & co's "For Love" for an AC30 compilation - come on, there's nowt wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve. They're also not adverse to deploying such intimidating instruments as the glockenspiel. This is a fine "newgaze" effort, worthy of your attention, if you're into that sort of thing. I know I am.

Hinterland - Halflife (buy here)
Hinterland - Sirens (or here)

I promise, next post will be on the Camera Obscura gig...