Friday, February 27, 2015

Album Review - Steven Wilson/Hand Cannot Erase

Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Steven Wilson (& friends)

Ha ha. Ha fucking ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Fuck you progladytes. FUCK YOU! Ha!

Steven Wilson, wherefore art thou?

I so wanted to call this review Arse. Cannot. Inhale.

I so expected this album to be unmitigated bottom junk.

I deliberately and publicly have stated that I will illegally download this album and that's exactly what I did. I did this because it was obviously going to be a pile of shit.

Therefore, the fact I'm so fucking gobsmacked that Wilson or SW (as us PT fans like to say) has returned to his pedestal in my musical hierarchy that I'm considering having a wank a day for a month. It was almost like he did this album deliberately, just to please me and, hopefully, the progladytes and prognista will be so appalled they'll eat themselves in an orgy of dull porn (and stale crackers).

Poncey title. Awful cover. Very iffy pre-release snippets. I was (and I'm not terribly proud of this) almost rubbing my hands together in glee at the prospect of meltdown in the SW fanboy circles as SW delivered an album so bland, insignificant and un-prog-like, it could have been by one of the Gallagher brothers.

Over the years, Porcupine Tree have been the closest thing to 'proper prog' music I've strayed towards. I don't think of Kscope - the predominant record label in my life - as being a prog label, they just have most of today's 'new prog' bands signed to them. To say North Atlantic Oscillation are a prog band is to say Will Young is a hip hop superstar. While I'm sure Mr Young can do a fair impression of hip hop, he's not going to take on NWA just yet. The point I'm attempting to make here is that while Hand. Cannot. Erase. has prog elements in it - mainly Yes this time - they're not at the forefront of this utterly stunning piece of work. It's like he starts with a prog song to lull you into a false sense of security.

Oh and yes, you did read that correctly - I said, 'utterly stunning piece of work'.

SW is influence driven. There's nothing wrong with that as there's nothing new under the sun. I can hear the influences in this album, but they're obscured more. He's not strode into the studio with a Robert Fripp head on (possibly a Steve Howe one though) and produced an ode to Crimson; more like he's sat in the sun and allowed all the influences to go runny, then thrown himself into a freezer so they'd just all congealed; like taking all of the elements of something and throwing them into a blender and seeing what comes out. H.C.E is unique in it has good tunes played hard and great tunes played soft - it is a musical mish-mash of an album, more indie than anything else, but with head nods to hard rock and most telling for me many of his own side projects. I heard elements of Blackfield, No-Man, Bass Communion and, of course, Porcupine Tree were in here as well. In fact, many of those hidden influences were obviously Steve's own.

I like to think Insurgentes is the best solo album, but that might be because it's just a Porcupine Tree album. Grace For Drowning also has far more immediate songs on it, but that was the bridge between Insurgentes and The Raven That Refused to Sing, which I, amazingly, have grown to like. H.C.E is, in my truly humble opinion, the first truly solo Steven Wilson album. Not solo in musicians, but solo in I believe these are his songs - his catalogue of ideas he couldn't shoehorn into some other project and that could be why the influences are harder to spot.

What of the album? Home Invasion: Regret #9 (two songs seguing into one) is possibly the best thing SW has written in the 21st Century. It's a thunderous prog/classic rock song in several parts (presumably for those progtastic progladytes) with Hammond's organ throbbing in the background like some phallic sentinel and a gutsy guitar Keef would have proud of. Opening track First Regret: 3 Years Older is another that benefits from repeat listenings and the closer Happy Returns: Ascendant Here On is like Talk Talk blended with Opeth with that SW signature through it like a bright red Blackpool in a stick of rock.

The title track is pure indie and Perfect Life, which I believed I would grow tired of as quickly as a Go Compare advert has actually grown on me and is very much one of those gentle highlights he is so good at helping deliver on No-Man albums. I have had an about face with this track from the initial hearing, but that might be because it fits into this album like a lost jigsaw piece.

Then there's Reunion which my mate thinks sounds like an homage to Kate Bush, but I think is just Wilson working with a slightly different pallet - using something new to put across an old point. It was a track that I struggled with at first, but now... Isn't that the best thing about good albums; the ones that make it difficult for you to appreciate them; they end up being the better ones.

Oh and about that illegal download - I ordered the album almost immediately; which I think is the kind of illegal download that SW probably has no problem with. This comes out on March 3.

If the album is about that London woman who lay dead in her flat for three years without being discovered then I don't really think it conveyed that. I like to think the title is a reference to SW's past: it's all there and can't be wiped out, so let's go some place new.

8 out of 10

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Glass Onion 2015

It's been nearly four years since I last posted up the best of my vegetarian repertoire, so what better way to bring it back with two seriously excellent vegetarian (not vegan) additions to my oeuvre.

For the last two years I have been honing something involving roasted veg, whole grains and cooked cheese and I eventually came up with one of the most complicated and convoluted plates of wonder you'll eat in a long time.

This has the imaginative title of Cous Cous (so good they named it twice) with roasted vegetables and haloumi.

This is one of them recipes that requires common sense and imagination. The roasted veg isn't cast in stone, you can use whatever floats your boat; so if you like roasted Brussell Sprouts then good for you (just don't come near me).

I have taken a number of photographs to help you (now that I have the technology for this sort of bollocks), they'll be posted somewhere in this...

Start with:

A flame proof dish full of vegetables - here you have: butternut squash, red and green peppers, onion, garlic hidden away at the bottom and most importantly quite a few cherry-styled tomatoes. Glug some decent olive oil over this and some sea salt and black pepper.

This needs to go into the oven at about 150 degrees for between 90 minutes and two hours.

While this is cooking, weigh 200g of cous cous and stick into a Pyrex bowl with: a teaspoon of paprika, a teaspoon of vegetable stock powder; ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes, ½ teaspoon of garlic granules and 2 teaspoons of black/brown mustard seeds.

Also, prepare some beans: I've discovered that green beans and broad beans work best. I also would wholeheartedly recommend buying frozen broad beans because they are simply better, cheaper and more convenient. Fiddly thing: skin the broad beans, the light green husks are tough.

Meanwhile, prepare some mushrooms. You can do one of two things here; you can chop a quantity of mushrooms and mix with chopped onions to make a duxelles; or you can fry the mushrooms about five minutes before the rest is done.

Season the mushrooms and put them in with the roasted vegetables to keep them warm (don't oven roast mushrooms, they just don't work very well).

Chop the onion, fry the mushrooms and boil some water. Now, take some sunflower and pumpkin seeds (or alternatively chop some nuts) and when the onions are softening, add the seeds.
Add 250ml of boiling water to the cous cous; stir vigorously and then cover with a tea towel and set 5 minutes on a timer.

Mix the bean, duxelles and seed mixture into the cous cous at the five minute stage. Grab a bunch of coriander and chop some leaves. Put this in about 20 seconds before you dish up.

Cover over with the tea towel again and shove in the microwave. Take a pack of haloumi (not thallium) and split into half and season with lashings of paprika; add a glug of olive oil to the pan and fry the cheese!

Microwave the bowl of cous cous mixture for about 30 seconds - just to ensure that everything is thoroughly hot and then on heated plates begin to dish up.

Once you've taken all of the roasted vegetables out of the dish and placed them on the plate, there should be an olive oil/vegetable juice mixture left - tip this into the cous cous mixture and mix in.

Mix in your coriander and plate up, ensuring you can mix the veg and the grain together however much you want.

You can use all manner of vegetables; you can use paneer instead of haloumi, or quinoa, buckwheat or whatever takes your fancy. It is just really delicious.


Recipe #2 is my version of a kofta.

I have continually had little success cooking with gram flour, but I don't give up. My koftas are often stodgy or doughy, never fluffy and light. So I sat down and thought about it and this is what I came up with:

Take about four heaped tablespoons of gram flour and place in a bowl; add coriander spice, cumin, salt, cinnamon and about 10 raw cashew nuts ground roughly. Mix together and then add a small onion finely chopped.

If you have a mini-blender for spices, then blitz a thumb of ginger, 3 garlic cloves, a seeded chilli and some salt and then add this to the mixture. Grate approx a 4oz slab/chunk of squash or pumpkin and thoroughly mix all the ingredients.

Take approx 2oz of lentils (red preferably) and put just enough water in to cover and set to cook. 15 minutes later you should have an orange mush, much the consistency of pease pudding. Add this to your gram flour and vegetable mixture. Add some bicarbonate of soda (½ teaspoon), plenty of salt and black pepper and a little more gram flour if you think the consistency is a little too 'wet'.

You will have something the consistency of very thick porridge. Put about 1cm deep of oil into a small frying pan and heat; place teaspoon sized balls of the mixture into the hot fat, turning every 20 seconds of so, so that they keep as round a shape as possible.

When they are golden brown take off the heat and place on greaseproof paper or kitchen paper towel to drain off any excess fat.

You can eat these as a mouth-sized bite or mix with a Malai sauce (creamy curry sauce with cloves, cinnamon and coriander) - they keep their shape and consistency very well considering how light and crispy they are.

You can use all manner of vegetables - Indian or local from carrots to doodi or bitter gourd and pumpkin (in the autumn) works exceptionally well.

These also work as alternatives to falafel and go extremely well with salad.

And that is that as they say. I'm going to go and do something illegal...