Saturday, January 9, 2010

Best of '09 Part 3/4 (#10 - #6)

I took a few days off to enjoy the New Year, drink some of the new teas I've acquired, spend time with friends and family, get ready for school, and visit my new nephew. Tonight brings the third installment of the top albums that somehow dragged me through 2009.

#10 - Faunts - Feel.Love.Thinking.Of

This is Faunts' second album, but the first one to make it into my hands. Originally a Canadian trio, they took on a fourth member for this band and the result is a very lucid, dreamlike album that is equally dancey and spacey at the same time. Driving beats, sweeping chords, and wispy vocals are layered together beautifully.

#9 - Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health

Any way you slice it, this album is flat out fun. Slightly off-key vocal that feel somewhat spoken, great use of layered harmonies, drums, horns, musicboxes, dirty synthesizers, and chord progressions that make any pop artist jealous.

#8 - Throw Me the Statue - Creaturesque

This is starting to become the year of over-the-top poppy indie rock. This album is anything I could have hoped for as a follow-up album. Not a bad tune on this album, and it hasn't left the deck in my car for two weeks. It's more put together than Moonbeams, and even if they continue down the path of production, I think I'll still be a fan. The biggest gripe I have heard from others is that it's such a clean sounding album...I can't wrap my head around docking a band for wanting to produce a clean record. Regardless, there are so many catchy songs on here that I can't help but love it. Noises is probably my favourite track from the album. Other favourites are Hi-fi Goon, which sounds like something that would have fit nicely onto the FLCL soundtrack and Pistols, a more mellow track that rides along the beat of latin perc and an array of floor toms.

#7 - Minus the Bear - Acoustics

A very different side of Minus came out with this EP, and instantly I was in love all over again. Another one of those groups that are so highly talented, yet never really met the acclaim they deserved. Anyone who is already familiar with their work will be immediately intrigued; anyone who isn't is missing out. The most remarkable thing about this collection of tracks (all older, except one new track titled "Guns and Ammo") is how well they translate to a more stripped down version of themselves. Nothing feels forced or awkward. There aren't any gaps or anything that feels missing. I'd really love to hear more of their catalogue translated this way, but for now this more than satisfies.

#6 - Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land

I've always been a huge fan of this band. The two tracks on this EP were such a regular part of my 09 listening that I couldn't help but include them on this list. Lyrically sharp, but more laid back than usual, this album makes me wonder what lies in waiting for the full length 2010 release. Still riddled with stormy lyrics, it sounds like they're more than ready for a change, and clearly have the balls to let us know it's coming.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On Shu

When you are at one with the Tao,
The Tao welcomes you.
When you are at one with Virtue,
The Virtue is always there.
When you are at one with loss,
The loss is experienced willingly.

I decided to take a sick-day and have been drinking Hong Yun Shu all morning. I bought a tong of these mini iron cakes almost a year ago and haven't regretted it at all. People seem to talk down on shu-pu, but it has earned itself a very prominent place in my heart. Actually, it is often times more drinkable than young sheng, even though I'm very much out in the open about my love for the ridiculous bite of a sheng that hasn't mellowed yet. The thing I love most about shu is it's very pronounced earthiness and how it makes no effort to cover that up. Camping, woods, wet earth, cellar floor, musty basement…call it what you will, but not much in this world warms my heart the way a piping hot cup of shu does. It courses it's way to the back of my mouth and wakes up every taste bud along the way. The cha'qi hits and a subtle sweetness sits at the front of my mouth, while the back of my throat dries and the soup tingles all the way down until it warms my stomach.

When I first blogged about this particular tea, I remember writing that it instantly took me back to a time when I was camping in the mountains during a rock climbing / white water rafting excursion. We would come back to camp in the evenings, cook dinner, drink around the fire, and share laughs from the day. One night in particular, it rained and my tent was flooded. I ended up sleeping in the CR-V (oh I loathed that thing...fortunately it wasn't mine). The following morning, I remember hanging up all of my things to dry them out, and somehow being totally okay with the fact that so much of what I brought along with me was ruined. I was the first one awake that morning and drank green tea out of a large rounded mug that was, ten minutes prior, home to milk and cereal. I thought about how happy I was that the rain had stopped, and remembered that nothing lasts forever; not rain, not life, nothing. A lot has changed since then, but there are some events that, simple as they may seem, un-shape us. They let us carry on as we are, unaffected by the influences of the outside world.

Shu takes me to a moment in time where there is nothing but the here and the now. It reminds me that all will be well. It's not demanding, it's not overly expensive, and in most cases waits patiently to be drank. No matter what sits in store, it will pass. It drops me off to a place where I can think clearly, slow myself down and let go.

Sometimes I need reminders that
one gets from life exactly what one seeks.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Norbu 2009 First Pluck Alishan

Lately, days have been long and nights have been longer. Life comes and life goes. In the past week, I've welcomed two lives and said goodbye to two lives. Nature always has a way of balancing itself out.

The softest thing in the universe
Overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.
That without substance can enter where there is no room.

Several months ago, Brett at Teacup in Seattle turned me onto Alishan, and ever since then, I have drank what little bit I've had in my collection sparingly. Always a pleasure to drink, I often saved it for nights when I knew I would be in good company. In Taiwan, this is a highly sought after tea, often demanded far beyond the quantity of production. Floral aroma, buttery light roasted oolong has been my go-to on the quiet nights, especially those nights Grace spends with her mother. I recently acquired some of a 2009 First Pluck Alishan from Greg at Norbu Tea, and have been drinking it pretty much nonstop ever since.

Tight rolled leaves unfurl to the length of two sipping cups side by side

As for the tea itself, it is fairly fragrant. A floral aroma with rich green leaves that begin to lift the lid from the teapot as they unfurl. The leaf integrity just won't quit! Big beautiful greens create an almost hypnotic neon yellow soup that anyone familiar with high mountain oolongs can't help but fall in love with.

The fragrance doesn't carry much over into the flavour, but has some presence. Instead, what comes through the most is a slightly sweet, thick buttery cup that fills the mouth and slowly works it's way towards the back of the palate. After a couple of infusions, this tea takes on a slightly sour aftertaste, which is my my favourite part of drinking this. It's not your typical candy sour bite either. The buttery nature of the tea makes it a very unique sour (almost like a sour cheese) that rounds out the tea very nicely. It hangs around in the back of my throat, and the overall experience is warming my whole body. Definitely something worth sharing in the company of friends, this (like most oolongs) is very accessible to people who haven't had a lot of exposure to different teas. It's simple enough to appeal to those who don't drink tea often, yet complex enough to keep those of us who do entertained.

After an hour with this, it finally starts to wind down. This is definitely something worth sharing with friends. The lid to the teapot is pushed up several millimeters now and reminds me of the way my father used to loosen his belt and stretch out after a good hearty meal. It's no wonder this tea is so sought after. The first harvest is, to the best of my knowledge, gone by now, but second flush is still available and I just purchased 100g of that. I'm sure this tea will have slightly varying characteristics in comparison to the second flush due to seasonal and weather changes. I will post my notes on those as soon as I get a chance to try it out.