Sunday, August 28, 2016

Food Flavored Album Review: This Album Does Not Exist by DREAMERS

When I visited Brooklyn back in July, I was limited to just one big meal in the city. I had to sift through pages and pages of bookmarks, whittle down hundreds of options to just one. I decided that my one meal should be at Champs Diner in Williamsburg. They seemed to be everything that Tampa was lacking. Completely vegan, highly recommended, delicious diner food. After choosing Champs, I figured the hard work was done. It wasn't. There were dozens of items on Champs menu that sounded amazing. How could I choose just one? While I eventually did select one, a pretty good buffalo chicken sandwich, there was another item, an opportunity cost for those economic nerds out there, on the Champs special of the day board that stayed with me long after I left Brooklyn and returned to Tampa. That item was a Cauliflower Po' Boy. According to the description, this Po' Boy included breaded cauliflower, cajun slaw, pickles and vegan bacon. I've made a version of this sandwich several times over the past month. Most of these Cauliflower Po' Boy experiences have coincided with my listening to the debut LP from DREAMERS.

DREAMERS debut, titled This Album Does Not Exist, and the Cauliflower Po' Boy actually have quite a bit in common. On the surface, both have ties to Brooklyn. The Po' Boy idea, born at Champs, while DREAMERS spent about two years living in a practice space in the city. Both recipe and album are blurred culminations of varied experiences and tastes. For DREAMERS this means that the band wrote the album while suffering through self-induced houselessness and the aforementioned two years living in a Brooklyn practice space. Also inspiring parts of the album are the band's circling of the US four times in a small van and their experience seeing countless cities and meeting new people everywhere they went. Meanwhile, the Po' Boy variety comes from its spicy hot sauce, sour pickles, fragrant Cajun spice and salty bacon. But let's not just hang out on the surface. Let's dig a bit deeper into both album and recipe and see how else album inspires recipe and vice versa.

At the top of DREAMERS This Album Does Not Exist is "Drugs," an anthemic sing-a-long that touches on millennial partying habits. Stay high, get higher, don't think for yourselves, follow along like sheep, its okay because you are still young, do it all, everything, for the drugs, you can never get enough. These partying habits, when run through a Po' Boy language translator, are similar to what I experience when it comes to pickles. F*** if I can't get enough, do it all for them, put peanut butter on them and chalk it all up to the youth that sloshes around inside. The key here is good pickles. Don't buy that s*** that sits on your grocery counters unrefrigerated. Get 'em local from whoever dabbles in pickle making. Trust me, the subtle sourness and crunch these local honeys provide will be so worth it.

Now that you've got a fist full of drugs racing through your central nervous system, DREAMERS come out firing with one of the fastest tracks on the album. "Never Too Late To Dance" is another in a long line of songs about dancing that actually make me want to leave the kitchen and turn some ballroom full of fussy bottoms on its head. This track is catchy as hell thanks to the rhythmic background, pulsating drum beats, the grouped out oh oh ohs and the "can we chase the fire from a lost romance, it's never too late to dance" chorus. Playing the same catchy as hell, fiery, stay drunk on your kiss role in the Po' Boy is the cauliflower. Dredged in corn meal, spices, soy milk and hot sauce, and then baked in the oven, the cauliflower is hot, carby and difficult to resist. Sometimes I plan to make three or four sandwiches but only wind up with two because of my sneaking cauliflower pieces between sandwich construction. My favorite part of the sandwich, my favorite song on the album.

"Last Night on Earth" is one of those songs about watching the world blow up around you. There is a sense of urgency to the track as it questions whether this is heaven or a curse. The only thing apparent is that "s***'s going crazy." Despite the possibility that this could be the last night on earth, the song's participants seem to remain pretty level headed. I mean just the fact that they can take a few moments to contemplate whether this really is the end and seem to be pretty clear about what they want to happen if this is their last night on earth speaks volumes about their "coolness." Had this Po' Boy had some cucumbers in it, I totally would've paired that up with "Last Night on Earth." But because it doesn't, I went with the bacon portion of the sandwich. Why you ask? I feel like the bacon embraces its own flavor. S**t's going all crazy around it with cajun slaw, spicy cauliflower and sour pickles and the bacon does the whole remain calm and bacon on thing. For this Po' Boy, I used the Bacun recipe found here.

Without sounding too much like a television show, I previously featured Sweet Disaster in this post. In the post I said "tonight, you're on top of the world, the king (or queen) of some late night, neon loaded, kingdom of debauchery. Across from you is the person of your moment, the one who puts nothing but bad things into your mind when they are around. Each new destination, on this fine evening, means a different jukebox to control. You've spent time with the Ramones, the Rolling Stones and a sea of others whom you can no longer recollect. As the two of you step outside and watch the final bar close its door and shut off the lights, you lean in for your goodbyes. Despite the fact that you are both swimming "in a river of champagne," a quick glance shows that you are both on the same page when it comes to this night. While "some nights feel like every night, this one feels brand new." And that's me quoting me. "Sweet Disaster" translates nicely to the cajun slaw component of the Po' Boy. The slaw could've easily felt like every other slaw, but it's combination of vegan mayo, cabbage and cajun seasonings comes across as something brand new. Of note, after numerous failed attempts at homemade aquafaba mayo, I bit the bullet and used Hampton Creek's Just Mayo for my vegan mayo. It was my first time using the product and I loved its balance of acidic richness and smooth, almost sauce like texture.

Which brings us to the bread. The bread needs to be a good one as it is what pulls everything together in the sandwich. It is both the first and last thing that you taste. I can't help but think that all the other ingredients probably wish they could play the same essential role that the bread does in the Po' Boy. I've tried to massage all their egos and tell them how important they all are but there is definitely some jealousy that lingers between pickles, cauliflower, slaw and bread. While "Lucky Dog" isn't the first song or the last one and it doesn't come across as the most memorable (despite its kickass handclaps and driving sing-along chorus), it does deal with a similar issue. "Lucky Dog" is a song about having the hottest girl in the crew and trying to stay grounded. It isn't easy to garner all that attention and keep your head about you. The line "All my friends ingredients, wish they were me instead" seems to sum up both album and recipe.

Most of the other songs didn't really do much for me. "Wolves (You Got Me)" and "To the Fire" both got better with age and perhaps, in a month or two, they could play some role in defining the Cauliflower Po' Boy. But in the here and now, they just fall a bit short of the tracks I highlighted.

Overall, I had a blast this summer eating Po' Boys and listening to This Record Doesn't Exist by DREAMERS. Neither album nor recipe is life defining. They won't wind up on any all time lists. But both are joined together when it comes to crafting a definition for the summer of 2016.