I'm not sure there is any food that likes to party as much as beans. From the bean dips of Cinco De Mayo to the baked beans at your Fourth of July picnic to the green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, if there is a celebration to be had, you can bet your ass that beans will be somewhere in the vicinity. By that same note, if I'm using their new album Apocalypse Meow as my sole indicator, which I am, I'm not sure there is any band that likes to make party music as much as Secret Club. The band shares stories of drinking, strip clubs, rendezvous at the Circle K, smoking, drug use, DEA cocaine raids, neck tattoos, disco visits, falling asleep on the bathroom floor and making out with friends. For some bands that kind of action would take a whole album or, worst case scenario, an entire discography to deliver. For Secret Club, it only takes the first couple of tracks. If I were to detail all the trouble (read: fun) that they get into on Apocalypse Meow, this post would never make it passed my editor's short attention span. A total party food and a total party album? Sounds like a speed dating meetup made in heaven. That's why Apocalypse Meow and the Mango BBQ Beans found in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction are about to get the ol' food flavored album review treatment. Let's get it!
My introduction to Apocalypse Meow came in the form of "I Do What I Want." This is the album's quintessential party track. It's also Secret Club's fu** you I won't do what you tell me rally cry for independence. The track is delivered with a perfect blend of angst and urgency, paying homage to 90's garage like the Hives (or is it the Vines?). Within the song you can see a war taking place. The band is battling the idea that growing up is the way to go but realizes they can't fight biology. The compromise is to not compromise. Secret Club says that if you (or they) want to pass out with 40's in their hands, then that's exactly what they plan on doing and nothing anyone can say will change that. The same kind of rebellious attitude exists in Isa's beans. Don't buy it, look no further than the mango. Who the hell thinks it is a good idea to boil out mango in a pot of BBQ beans? I sure didn't. I only made the recipe because I happened to have a big bag of frozen mango and a giant pile of beans. Don't tell Isa but I even got a bit rebellious with this recipe by my own right. Kidney beans? Nuh uh. My refrigerator was overflowing with their blackened brothers. So instead of making another pressure cooked pot of kidney beans and overloading my cold case even more, I changed them out for black beans (this sentence needs to be read with "I Do What I Want" playing loudly in the background).
Speaking of black beans, they bring a bit of baggage to this dish. Black beans have a slightly sweet and meaty texture to them. They also have a rich black color. This is courtesy of three anthocyanin flavonoids (delphinidin, petunidin and malvidin) that are present in the "skin." Adding them to Isa's recipe means that the final dish will be slightly darker and sweeter than if the bolder, earthier kidney beans had been used. Like black beans, Apocalypse Meow has a dark side. It's called black humor. No track demonstrate this more than "Circle K." The song starts as a simple gas station love song a la "Quick Check Girl" by the Bouncing Souls. But things change drastically at the ten second mark. There is a Ramones like twist and all of a sudden this Circle K girl goes from a hot, upstanding member of society, who happens to works at a gas station to a member of the KKK. Worse yet, her father won't let her be broken up with without some serious retribution. Can it get any blacker than dating a KKK member who you are unable to break up with because her daddy will kill you? I'm not sure it can. By the way if there are any television execs reading this, I would totally watch that television show. Make it happen.
As for the bean's sweetness, Apocalypse Meow does have a minor dose of that in "My Friend Angie." This track slows down immensely, we're talking lullaby pace here. To take "My Friend Angie" to a place where only certain foods tread, my original thought was that the song makes me feel like I'm sitting around a fire singing with friends. The rest of the album? That's the fire itself. Despite the sweet sounding music, "My Friend Angie" still delivers the tongue-in-cheek style lyrics which show up throughout the album. Angie is a badass. She wears black, holds her curtains with a tack, likes to stay up late and has a lip tat. She also has nothing wrong with her, as far as she can tell. She seems to respond well when interviewed at sexy growl level. I say this because of how AJ Babcock delivers the lyrics. Watch out ladies!
While Apocalypse Meow has a lot of good to great tracks, my favorite one would have to be "Toledo." In this track, getting stoned in Ohio is all the rage. So is not waiting around for others to make decisions. You can't force people to do something, you can only tell them how it is and then move on with your stuff. In Isa's description of the beans she let's you know up front, this dish requires a fair amount of time to let the flavors of the mango and tomato sauce meld and to allow the beans to soak up that amazing taste combo. While you might not want to wait around any longer, to really take this dish places you sort of have to.
One of the lasting memories I have of Secret Club's Apocalypse Meow is how the album seems to gather little snippets of "taste" from corners of the music world. First and foremost, there's lots of garage rock (see "Sucker", "I Do What I Want" and "Secret Club"). I already mentioned that it reminds me a lot of the Vines, the Hives and even Ok Go. Bits of Ramones era punk can certainly be noticed on "Circle K." Secret Club also channels some of Local H's heavy, post grunge ("Leave a Mark"), Hum's alternative rock ("Lost") and the surf rock of off Weezer's Blue Album or Pixies Bossanova (the beginning of "Why Can't Friends Just Kiss on the Lips Sometimes?"). The same lasting memories exist with Isa's Mango BBQ Beans. These beans combine a lot of different tastes to make one awesome final product. There's the sweetness of the beans, mango and maple syrup (I used this instead of agave), the saltiness of the vegetable broth, tomato sauce and salt, the smokiness served up by the liquid smoke and the final kapow! of spiciness courtesy of the red pepper flakes.
To sum it up, my favorite chorus of the album: "Are you one of us? I'm none of us? Woah-oh-oh, I'm not your sucker." But really, I've found that I am totally a sucker for both Apocalypse Meow and Isa Chandra Moskowitz's BBQ Mango Beans. I find it easier to be a sucker for both at the same time.