by featured contributor Troy Farmer
I remember when I was about, say, 16…sadly, that was 18 years ago (oof)…I was in a car driving somewhere with my mom in southern Virginia and I had My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in the tape deck (yes, tape deck). Anyone who knows this album—and, mind you, everyone should know this album if there is anything good and decent in the world—knows it’s not exactly baby boomer music. It’s loud, fuzzy, music laden with tremolo-bent glide guitar that makes it sound like an army of guitar players are strumming thousands of strings over very, very buried vocals. So, yeah, not exactly Barry Manilow. My mother, naturally, inquired how on earth I could listen to such music—there was no rhyme or reason to it, no catchiness, no melody. I responded, in an odd moment of logical lucidity, that all of that melody and hook was there, it was just in a new package, wrapped up with new sounds that my generation could relate to—or at least those of us with grape Kool-Aid-dyed hair and a Dr. Seuss stocking cap (hott). Well, I’m sure I wasn’t exactly that eloquent, but you get the point.
Dan Black sounds nothing like My Bloody Valentine, but he’s bringing the same game to the table—excellent song-writing, catchy hooks, and razor-sharp pop sensibilities, all wrapped up in a very now-sounding hybrid of electronics and traditional instrumentation. There are many artists out there who, while great in their element, would sound naked and rather pathetic once you strip away the blips, bleeps, vocoder, or guitar effect du jour because the song structure isn’t there. It’s like trying to get an American Idol winner to go off and write an album of original material. Sure they’ve got a great voice and popular culture on their side, but there’s no creative skill behind it, no original base for their success. But take away Dan Black’s bells and whistles and you’ve still got a great pop song. See?
That’s what makes him and so many other talented artists with that knack so very worthy of our collective admiration. They can write music. Crazy, right, that talented song writing is the proverbial needle in the haystack of popular music these days?
That said, a pretty face with nothing behind it is nothing new in the music world. But the oft-criticized current state of music is something that I think has actually leveled the playing field and made it easier for talent to rise up above showbiz marionettes with multimillion dollar backing. Yes there’s plenty of figuring out to be done before artists can be assured of making a living off their talent and their musical passion, but now the kid with a guitar, a drum machine, and any number of audio programs sitting in a bedroom in the middle of the country can pour her heart out in song and disseminate it to the very massive masses via the Web and essentially be just as visible as, say, Beyoncé. She won’t necessarily have Jay-Z on her arm or eat bars of gold for breakfast, but I can hear their music just as easily. In my mind, especially for the independent musician, things couldn’t be more grand in the world of music. So suck it, U2.
But I digress. Point is, Dan Black’s music is built on that prized thing that is and has been missing from many acts: Musical substance. Everything on top of that structure—the drum machine beats, the quirky keyboard fuzz, the sampled nylon guitar hook—is all just there to keep our oh-so-short attention spans occupied and our ear attuned. And the effect is music I, for one, can’t stop listening to. Check out some of tracks on Black’s site - http://www.danblacksound.com/music/
My favorites there are “Wonder” and “Junk Food”. And you can hear an interpretation of his single, “Symphonies”, by Passion Pit, one of my favorite new bands and an early fan of Blacks’ - http://rcrdlbl.com/artists/Dan_Black/track/Symphonies_Passion_Pit_Remix
Though his debut album, Un (meaning ‘One’ in French and…you know…‘Un’ in English), has been out since the summer in Europe, it won’t be available here in the US until next month. But you can download the whole album in all it’s MP3 glory via iTunes now.
Now then, you’re probably hungry after all that reading. Daube, a southern French beef stew, obviously minus the beef, seems an appropriate paring for Dan Black both because he calls Paris home and because it, like him, builds its tastes on a fundamental base with staying power. Who can’t be won over with a hearty warm stew, especially in the dead of what promises to be a mournfully long winter. I’m not claiming this is 100% faithful to the tradition of Daube, but it makes for a nice parallel, don’t you think? So, first off, you need to decide whether you’re making fresh seitan or using packaged, which is obviously quicker, but not nearly as much fun. If you’re buying it, White Wave makes a nice one, but more and more we’re seeing local manufacturers get into the gluten game, so we leave the brand to you. But get 8-12 ounces, depending on how much of a ‘meaty’ taste you like in your stews, and skip this first part.
If you’re making it, you’ll need the following:
- • 1 Cup Vital Wheat Gluten
- • 2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
- • 4 3/4 Cup Vegetable Broth
- • 2 Dashes of Soy Sauce
- • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- • 1 Clove Garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- • 4 Springs Fresh Sage, sliced into tiny strips
- • 1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
- • 1 Tsp Liquid Smoke
- • 4 Cups Water
- • Pepper to Taste
Heat a small pan on high with a dash of olive oil, once the oil is heated and begins to smoke a little, toss in the sage and allow it to singe on the edges, turning a dark green to brown, but not black. This will only take 30 seconds or so. Immediately move the sage to a paper towel and absorb the extra oil. Mix the wheat gluten and yeast in a large bowl, then mix 3/4 cups of broth along with the other liquid ingredients, garlic, sage, and paprika. Once everything begins to bond together, kneed the dough for 3 minutes and form into eight or so small medallions. In a large pot, heat the remaining 4 cups of broth and 4 cups of water and toss in the seitan medallions. Bring everything to a boil and then immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer for one hour then remove the seitan and let cool.
Now, for the rest of the stew, you need:
- • 4 Unpeeled Carrots, sliced into thick circles or half-circles
- • 4 Stalks of Celery, sliced
- • 16 Ounces of Frozen Peas
- • 6 Shallots or 1 Large Sweet Onion, peeled and finely diced
- • 3 Large Unpeeled Yukon Gold Potatoes, chopped into roughly 2”x2” cubes
- • 6 Cloves of Garlic, smashed and finely diced
- • 2 Cups of a Decent Red Wine (keep it French if you want to uphold the theme)
- • 2 Tbsp Teriyaki Sauce
- • 3 Tbsp Liquid Smoke
- • 6 Ounces Canned Tomato Paste
- • 3 Cups Vegetable Broth
- • 3 Cups Water
- • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- • 1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary, finely sliced
- • 1 Spring Fresh Thyme, finely sliced
- • 5 Fresh Sage Leaves, finely sliced
- • Pepper to Taste
In a large pot, boil your potatoes in the broth and water covered, tilting the lid a bit to allow some of the steam to escape. Meanwhile in a large, heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet, sauté the shallots/onion and garlic in the olive oil on medium heat, stirring continually and allowing them to become slightly translucent. Allow them to brown on the edges, but if they darken too much lower the heat. Cook for seven minutes. While that sautés, chop your cooled seitan into roughly 2”x2” chunks. Add them to the skillet and sauté with the shallots and garlic, turning up the heat slightly. Cook covered for 10 minutes, uncovering and stirring halfway through. Meanwhile, as potatoes become more tender but still offer a little resistance (likely fifteen minutes in or so) add the sliced carrots. Now, back at the skillet, add one cup of your wine. Not a wine fan or want to go for a more ‘merican stew? Sub in half a bottle of a nice strong beer like a stout? Abhor alcohol altogether? Use an equal amount of broth. Now add in the teriyaki and 2 Tbsp. liquid smoke and cook off the liquid, allowing the glaze to absorb into the seitan mixture. This takes anywhere from five to ten minutes depending on your stove, elevation, or potential juxtaposition to temporal vortexes. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the carrots in the pot. Once they’re starting to become tender, likely five minutes post-pot-add, throw in your celery. Back at the skillet, once the liquid’s cooked off, add the other cup of your wine or broth or other half of your beer and pepper everything fairly generously. Again, cook the liquid off until you have a slightly syrupy mixture, probably another 10 or 15 minutes. Turn the heat on the skillet off. At this point, your pot vegetables should be pretty tender and the potato should start to break off a bit at the edges, thickening up the stew stock. Now add your seitan mixture, 1 Tbsp. liquid smoke, frozen peas, and tomato paste to the pot and stir everything together. Cook everything with the lid mostly covering the pot but again allowing some moisture to escape for 3o minutes. As you cook everything, keep an eye on the consistency. You should be good, but if things get too thick, you can add a little water or broth. Too liquidy? Throw in a little flour, though, if anything, this recipe veers toward too thick. Now you’ve got some lovely beef-free stew. Kick back and listen to some fine tunes, my friend. Just not U2.