BlackBook Interview: Brooklyn’s Nation of Language are Canny Post-Punk Revivalists

 

 

 

The decline of guitar-based rock & roll is so far behind us as to be almost not worth bringing up—although we raise a glass to The Strokes for their recent attempt at keeping the flame flickering (honorable mention to Jack White, naturally). The six-stringer has been replaced, of course, by electronic apparatuses that are so much easier to master, making for a decade of bedroom wannabes churning out repetitive electronic beats in staggering quantities. It’s simplistic to describe this type of music as “’80s sounding.”

Of course that was the decade that inaugurated keyboard heavy bands’ dominance of the charts and airwaves; but the likes of Human League, Gary Numan, New Order, and others who helped define the ‘New Wave’ during that time, came to their electronics not just for ease of use, but through a need for newness and rebellion, just as visceral as had the Clash with their guitar-bass-drums-politics in the late ’70s. They, also, meant it man. 40 years later, while the majority of electronic pop is just heartless bleeps and bloops strung together for maximum marketability, thankfully some synth bands also still mean it; to wit, Brooklyn’s Nation of Language.

The artful trio may have only recently released their debut album Introduction, Presence; but they are being genuinely heralded as masters of their electronic domain, as if they had been at it forever. It appears they might just be savants. So to further investigate, BlackBook caught up with songwriter/vocalist Ian Devaney from our mutual quarantine positions. We learned much.

 

 

 

Hey there, where are you and what are you up to today?

I’m in my Brooklyn apartment. Just finished a bike ride and then later I’ll be going to some protests.

The protests are continuing in Brooklyn?

Oh, yeah. There’s, like, a whole slew of them. I have to choose which ones to go to, because there’s one every couple of hours.

Do you think it has made its point? How does the timeline of protesting go?

I think for me, it’s something that you kind of keep doing until you’ve seen that you have shown the people who make decisions that minor signifiers won’t cut it. I remember last week, the governor was like, “Okay, you guys have made your point. You don’t have to come out anymore.” And everyone was like, “We haven’t really changed anything.” So I was looking back at and comparing the time these protests went on versus protests in the…

Sixties?

Yes. And some of them went on—particularly the bus boycotts—went on for so long that it’s kind of like, “Let’s keep the pressure up until more things happen.”

We have an apartment in Greenpoint, but we’ve been hiding out in Connecticut, and I feel a little…I don’t know…that I’m not doing my civic duty.

I think it’s—I, for a long time, wasn’t going to the protests because I just had a lot of corona-induced anxiety about being in crowds. And so, I totally sympathize with the desire to not be surrounded by thousands of people.

 

 

 

I’m looking at other countries and just feeling very cut off and abandoned, I guess in a way, by American society.

I bounce back and forth between being so crushed, and then so hopeful. It’s just this very extreme thing going on that can be pretty exhausting.

But oh, your band…we got no high-pressure pitch, we just loved what you’re doing.

That makes me very happy because that’s always sort of been my—I’ve traditionally been super bad at telling people about the band. I’ve always kind of hoped that we would sort of have developed in such a way that we could be like, “Hey, check it out,” and people would actually check it out.

My facetious answer to bands who ask “How do we get attention?”…sometimes is, “Well, you just have to be awesome, and then people will like you.” Who’s in the band and how did it get going?

We’re a tight three-piece. It’s my wife who plays synths. I guess it was like a songwriting exercise sort of idea that I was kicking around, and our bass player is just…he has more technical knowledge than I do, and is just the sort of person to be like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

So, if it evolved kind of naturally like that, obviously your sound is very much…I don’t know if influenced is the right word…but references a definite period. One would guess that you set out to do that?

Yeah, it was definitely a conscious thing. I have listened to this kind of alternate version of the OMD song “Electricity,” and it was…you know, synth music, but very stripped back and focused on the bass a lot, and was kind of rough and not everything is totally synced up and in time. It just kind of really struck a chord with me because I always associate synth music with being something that’s so tight and lush and maximized. So, I was like, I wonder if I can with just, like, my dinky keyboard that I have, I wonder if I can write a song that captures that vibe. I did, and then was like, well, let’s try another one. And then after a while, we had five songs.

 

 

NME described you as “new wave revivalists.” Is that an apt description?

Uh…I mean, I think it’s in kind of an easy shorthand. I wouldn’t push back on it too hard, certainly.

You’re obviously fans of Joy Division and New Order. I don’t know if you have posters hanging up in your room…

No, no posters. But it’s certainly just…new wave and post-punk sounds are like a palate that I really like—that resonate with me a lot.

What’s it like being in a band and kind of having your wings clipped a bit with this coronavirus lockdown situation? Is the August show (8/21, The Sultan Room, Brooklyn) potentially happening, and would that be your first gig back?

Yeah. The August show seems—it’s sort of touch-and-go, but it seems like we’re leaning toward it happening. We’ve been kind of discussing how to do it with a socially distanced concept in mind. So, we’re thinking maybe we’ll do two nights, two shows a night.

That’s an idea.

So, we can do a half and half thing. But yeah, we’ve been a band that’s always relied a lot on the live show as what felt like the primary hook that drew people in. We were three shows into a tour when all of this happened, and we completely canceled and came home.

Where were you supposed to be going?

We had just finished playing Montreal and we were supposed to be going to…Cleveland maybe, or Columbus. I can’t remember now. So, when it became clear that live shows were not something that were going to be happening for quite a long time…there was definitely a period of total hopelessness. And then, shockingly, it’s gone far better than I ever expected. Radio stations have been very welcoming for us. All across, not just America, but everywhere, it seems.

 

 

It seems like radio…

Is having another moment.

And has been slightly revitalized by this.

Yeah, between radio and a lot of publications writing very generous reviews, things have really taken off in a much more amazing way than we expected.

That’s great. Not everyone gets an NME review.

Right. And it feels particularly special because we’re an unsigned band; and so just being sort of reminded of that when we’ll look at radio charts or lists of reviews…you look at the other people on these lists and are like, I can’t believe we’re being mentioned alongside any of them.

Figuring that bands can maybe play out a bit in the fall, what’s the plan?

We just signed on with some booking agents, and so we’re obviously…it’s very much wait and see, but we’re a band that loves touring, and so we’d love to hit the road as fast and as hard as possible.

For now, what else are you spending your time doing other than protesting?

I mean, there’s a lot of writing, I would say. It’s definitely gone back into writing mode. I don’t know that I ever really leave writing mode, but now that I have all this time, it’s what I spend so much more of my time doing.

 

 

Are you the main songwriter? Do you come up with the basic melodies and words?

Actually, I put everything together. We’re talking about once restrictions lift a little bit, getting back into the studio and working on some songs that would be for the next record, and just kind of getting everything set so on the word “Go,” we can move forward and keep it going.

You’re weathering the storm of this pandemic okay as a band. A lot of bands don’t do so well on the road anyway.

It’s true. I’ve always been thankful that we are a band where everyone likes to tour, because even if there’s one member in the band who doesn’t, it can make life very difficult.

You obviously have gotten some good word of mouth. Do you show up in Boston and Cleveland and Berkeley and people just come out?

I mean, it’s been a little while, because we had to sort of invest our money into making our first record,; which is why we were so excited about this tour we were on when it got called off. But yeah, we’ve done a number of tours both here and in Europe and we’ve been very fortunate. I don’t know the degree to which the people there knew who we were, but we’d play shows and people would just be showing up.

If you wanted to get signed, was there a particular label you have in mind? Too bad Factory’s not around anymore.

I don’t think there’s any one sort of dream label in my mind. We’ve been in talks with a couple at this point. But we’ve been able to do so much on our own that it’s still something that I’m sort of cautious about. I’m not opposed to the idea, it’s just really nice to have the sort of freedom to do what you want to do whenever you want to do it.

BlackBook Premiere: New Elephant Stone Video Meditates on the Faded ‘American Dream’

 

 

Life in these United States is sobering enough these days…not that we’re sober that frequently lately; but for an even more visceral take, talk to a non-American. From foreign business associates unable to even enter the country where they have offices, to expats seriously questioning why they’re here in the first place, those with less compulsion to pledge the allegiance are making no secret of their displeasure in the face of the barrage of violence and deadly decisions we seem to be facing down daily.

Montreal’s Elephant Stone’s incisive new track, from their eerily dystopian album Hollow (released in March) questions just that: how anyone can still believe in the so-called “American Dream,” when the reality is so…hollow.

 

 

Sitar and bass playing frontman Rishi Dhir puts it thusly: “Growing up in Canada, it was hard to not feel like an ‘also-ran,’ when you’re constantly sold the glitz and glamour of America. Over the years, many of my Canadian friends moved south of the border in search of the American dream, only to find that it really was just a dream. And now, with the dangerous path America is on, I wonder if my same friends are questioning their move and longing for home.”

The video for the track, which BlackBook premieres here, was, Dhir explains, “filmed in isolation in my garage with a green screen, my son, queue cards, and an obvious nod to Dylan. The video compiles archival footage of immigrants in search of that American Dream.”

The result is heart-wrenching but compelling, and yet another reminder of the “systems” that have done little to further the lives of the people they swore to support. Sigh.

 

 

Image by Bowen Stead

BlackBook Interview: The Kills’ Alison Mosshart Goes Solo During Quarantine

Photo by David James Swanson

 

 

 

For anyone who’s basically been on tour for 24 years straight, since she was 17, being homebound must be a rather surreal experience. Yet, as with the majority of the global population right now, Alison Mosshart has had her wings clipped. Not that she isn’t busy; this month her first ever solo single, “Rise,” a swampy rocker that would be equally at home in a set by The Kills or Dead Weather, was released via Domino to much excitement, along with a video that Mosshart herself made at home during her first two weeks of quarantine. It racked up over 25K plays in its first day.

Since then, she’s been teaching herself Spanish and doing online Pilates between bouts of writing and painting. Because, well…Alison.

But the road is what an irredeemable rocker yearns for most; and until mid-March, plans were being developed to launch the next phase of The Kills career, with a new album release and tour in the works for later this year. Apparently, as with everything, it’s all on hold for now. Yet songs are being developed, and, as they did when starting out almost 20 years ago, Mosshart and Kills co-conspirator Jamie Hince are swapping ideas remotely…except, unlike the early aughts, they don’t have to mail each other cassette tapes. When finally allowed back in a studio together, amazing results will be the reward, we’re absolutely certain.

Following the release of “Rise,” we connected with Ms. Mosshart at home in Nashville, which was not only reeling from corona, but still cleaning up after devastating tornados in early March. She was…chatty.

 

 

How’s Nashville? Have you been there this whole time we’ve been dealing with not going anywhere?

Yeah, I have. I came back from L.A. on March 2nd to vote in the primaries, and on the third the tornadoes came and tore up half of Nashville. And then this. So it’s been…there’s a lot of stuff. I’ve never seen a tornado scene before, you know? It looks like a movie set. I mean, it’s like wacky Wednesday. Everything’s upside down, things are hanging from the sky. It was all so eerie at night, because there were so many electrical trucks and things like that and cops and stuff, so everything was lit like a film. Just bizarre colors, strange shapes. It was really so…I don’t know. Like, my brain could not quite perceive what I was looking at, you know? It’s surreal as fuck. Surreal.

New realities can be interesting.

We’re making a new normal.

The new single is awesome. It’s a nice change to hear some real rock and roll, it seems in pretty short supply.

Yeah. I mean, you know what, it’s my favorite. I love electric guitar.

Are you excited? It sounds like it was a long time coming, this track.

Yeah. I worked on it for a very long time before, and then I was asked to write something for a television show. And I remembered this track and I thought, this is kind of perfect, after reading the scripts for the first two episodes of the Facebook Watch show Sacred Lies; I was like, okay, I think I have the song for this, which made me revisit it and finish it. I had Jamie come into the studio for like 40 minutes to an hour or something, and he just like, randomly played over the tops, just like, crazy. It’s beautiful. I mean, he’s my favorite guitar player in the world, so I’m so glad he did that.

So it’s for this show, Sacred Lies, which is on…I have to be honest, I’m really not too familiar with Facebook Watch shows.

No, me either. I didn’t even know they existed until I was asked to do this job. You know what was interesting about the songs in the show? I’m not singing in the show. It’s not my recording of it. They have all the different characters singing this song or parts of this song and they’re kind of like, it connects them in this way. I’m so glad that they asked me to do that, because if they hadn’t asked me I would probably not have gone and recorded it. And then making a really fun, low-rider video has kept me busy in quarantine for four straight days, figuring out how to use iMovie. What a nightmare.

Amazing that it was made so quickly and came out right away.

Well, what’s so crazy is that before I left Los Angeles, me and two of my friends, we heard that there was a low-riders cruising thing they do every Friday night at different locations kind of in East L.A. I’m car obsessed. I had recently bought myself this video camera because I’d been thinking I wanted to start making little short art kinds of films, because I love doing that; but I hadn’t owned a video camera in a long time. So, I kind of got myself ramped for shooting on a decent little handheld camera, and I thought, I’m going to go down to the low-riders, I’m going to teach myself to use this thing. And so, never did I think I was going to use that footage for anything.

 

 

What was the experience like?

The cars were so beautiful, everybody was telling stories about their cars and how everything worked, the family significance to all of these things. They’re works of art. So, I have this footage, and then I left L.A. two days later, and then all of this happened. And really, that was all I had on my video camera, and I was like, “Well, I’ve got low-riders that are jumping around. Okay, we’ve got something. We can start with that and we’ll figure it out from there.”

The footage looks pretty pro, like hi-def, so obviously you’ve got a pretty decent camera.

Thank you very much. Super accident, it’s like a $400 camera. It’s not a total piece of shit, it has a nice lens on it. It’s more like a family vacation type…but it does the job. Anything looks better than a phone now.

Your book CAR MA, which I really dug, came out last summer. Were you thinking about the book when you were out in L.A. that night shooting this?

No, I wasn’t. It’s just a constant theme in my life. If there’s going to be cool cars somewhere, I’m going to want to go there and see them. But no, that was one of the funnest projects ever, and that started out as someone asking me to make a fanzine for an art project, a bunch of different artists were going to make a fanzine and I don’t know what happened. I mean, it was supposed to be like 15 pages long, and I blinked, and it was 112 pages and it honestly could have been 600. I just couldn’t stop doing it. I was so obsessed. So, I’m really happy because that book is going to come back out, I think in July or August, and it’ll be everywhere and everyone can get it; because the first time I did it, it was like a limit of 500 copies and they were gone in, like, a day or two.

That’s awesome.

I’m very happy. It’ll be just so much more awesome if people who wanted it could actually get it. That would make me happier.

You never know. If you do something with passion and it connects, that’s the best thing. So, what’s it like being stuck inside in Nashville?

We locked down even a couple days before New York did. I think our first day was the 13th. Well, Nashville did. Tennessee didn’t, Tennessee was super late to the game. People were still going to church and shit like that, and it was just like, what the hell? For a long time. Bill Lee is not a very cool governor.

No, he’s not.

I’ve gone to the grocery store once. I went to FedEx once. And I went to the gas station and the liquor store once. But like, all the same shit. Except with a mask; I mean, I looked like a burglar.

 

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Socially compliant film still.

A post shared by Alison Mosshart (@amosshart) on

 

Is it just you at home, or do you have people around you?

I live with two friends of mine here. There’s three of us in this house and I think that’s really helped, because if we get bored of ourselves, we can go find someone else. It’s nice to have that. But yeah, the weather is beautiful. There’s long walks to take, I’ve been doing lots of virtual Pilates, Spanish lessons, songwriting, painting. So far, it’s like, after being on tour for 24 years of my life, I feel like I have 24 years of being home to catch up on. So far, I haven’t had a major meltdown yet.

Speaking of touring, you do kind of qualify as the hardest working person in rock and roll, with the numerous different projects you’ve done over the years. But what’s the next thing? There’s a new Kills record potentially, is that next on the list?

Yeah, we have a number of songs at this point. We’re just kind of compiling and writing for the last year on and off between other things. This is kind of an interesting scenario, because he’s in L.A., and I’m here, so we can’t get together. But you know, we’re just sending each other music all the time. And I feel like, by the end of this, by the time that this is all over, we should have a record and we should be able to go in and record it. This is what I’m dreaming of. And then go back on tour, because that is really…I’ve already been off the road for a year and a half, or in November it’ll be two, and I’m like, itching for it. But right now, I’m not allowed to have that feeling. It’s just not a possibility. But one day. And boy, will I not take it for granted. Oh my god, it’s just going to be glorious.

I’ve said, as soon as this is over, people are going to be having sex in the subway, because everyone’s going to be so excited to just get out.

Oh my god, it’s going to be amazing, the world is going to have the wildest party. It’s going to be…but I wish it was, I wish there was just a day we knew, like, one year from now, we can have a really wild party. But it’s going to be weirder than that. It’s going to be, like, whoa. I guess we should already just name a holiday date in 2021 where it’s like, this is our big party day. We definitely need to go for it.

It’s not going to be just like flipping on a light switch. Okay, everyone can touch each other now.

Exactly, I know. No, not at all.

But you and Jamie started off by trading music over the mail or email, didn’t you? So this is kind of getting back to that.

It’s also kind of how we always worked. We both really write alone and then we bring each other songs; and then we work on each other’s songs—so always the seed of anything is like, he works on stuff that he gets to a place where he feels excited to show me, and I do the same thing. This scenario is fine for us. I just miss him. I really miss him.

 

The Kills

 

Well, you’re going to get back in the studio with all these ideas in six or eight months or whatever, and there will probably be this big explosion of excitement and creativity.

It’ll be so exciting. But I just want to keep on writing and writing and writing and writing, because there’s really no excuse not to be doing that right now, aside from just feeling depressed. I’ve talked to a lot of artists right now who are like, fuck, it’s crazy, I’m stuck at the house, which is normally what I would love to have happen, no social obligations, no stupid parties I have to go to, shit I have to show up for that I don’t want to do. I just want to create. But it’s such a…waking up with a wet blanket, it’s such a strange thing. It’s such a sad thing that’s going on. It is really hard to get into that mental creative space that’s like, free, where you can just drift on a dream and write something that you’d never thought of before. And I think for the first, like even up until a couple nights ago, I couldn’t play guitar and sing. I just couldn’t think of anything. My brain was just not that kind of a brain.

But you made a video?

I made another for the B-side of the single that I’m so excited about, because now I understand iMovie. It was really exciting because something about that kind of creativity has been natural for me during this. I’ve talked to a lot of friends who are really struggling to be creative or productively creative. It’s just such a weird feeling in the air.

I can see how working on  iMovie would help, because it’s kind of tactile and task oriented. 

It’s like solving a 2,000-piece puzzle. You can get in that zone, if that’s the kind of zone that your brain likes.

In order to come up with riffs and lyrics, that’s more of a dream state thing, and we’re not allowed to be in that right now.

I think that the world is in shock, as it should be, and we’re all experiencing some form of a worldwide mourning and depression. It’s a really heavy thing. If you’re even remotely in-tune with that, it stops you in your tracks. It’s a lot to think about. a lot to figure out how to navigate. Like, how do I expect myself to find silver linings everywhere? It’s just looking for those…and then not trying to just get swallowed up in the darkness of this.

 

Listen: New Joy Downer Single ‘A Song You’d Never Want to Hear’ is Synth-Pop Perfection

 

 

A quick scan through the online presence of adorable pixie Joy Downer reveals a neon hued world, perfectly ideologically aligned with the ’80s tinged electro dream pop that she’s been making these last few years. A one-time model and Mormon, the LA based singer creates, with help from husband Jeff—he of the perfectly complimentary surname—a sparkly bed of blips, bloops, and tremolo guitars, over which her breathy vocals spin tales of urban ennui.

During that short time, Downer has also been busy scoring some impressive placements, with her music featured on various MTV and Netflix shows. Her snippet of “Over The Rainbow” in a 2017 Honda ad was a study in delightful simplicity.

 

 

 

As with all of us, the Downers have been forced to adjust to extended home stays of late; but that hasn’t stopped the pair from finishing up a new album, Paper Moon, which will be released this June. But right now we’re excited for the release today of the advance, and contradictorily titled single, “A Song You’d Never Want to Hear”—with its Depeche/Kraftwerk synth constructions, and Joy lyrically admitting, “I still don’t know / Why I didn’t let you let me go.”

“I wrote it as I do most my songs, in a stream of consciousness,” she explains. “Start singing and see where it takes me. It put me back in the mindset of my 17 year old self, how it resonated with who I was when I used to write romantic sappy songs for my high school boyfriend. He never really cared for my songs, or for my singing. I valued and very much wanted his approval. Even though he cheated on me, lied to me, made me feel horrible about myself…I wanted him to want me I guess.”

Surely, we’ve all been there.

 

 

New Book ‘Bond: Photographed by Terry O’Neill’ Documents All the Thrilling Glamour of 007

 

 

If Austin Powers had actually existed, his swinging 1960s escapades would have surely been captured by photographer of the moment Terry O’Neill, who we imagine would have then shared a bottle of Bolly and a tryst or two with the sartorial spy. Of course, there was no shortage of the real thing around London at that time, and O’Neill turned his lens on most of them, including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and perhaps most famously Elton John, with those images helping to launch the “Rocket Man” into the stratosphere.

In addition to rockers, models, and actresses—O’Neill eventually married Faye Dunaway, one of his famous subjects—he has also held a decades long job documenting the on- and off-camera adventures of none other than James Bond. Starting with 1964’s Goldfinger and continuing through to the recent Daniel Craig films, his camera has caught the on set and behind the scenes antics of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and assorted Bond babes, in all their dapper stylistic splendor. And now the results have been collected in the glamorous new book Bond: Photographed by Terry O’Neill (from ACC Art Books).

 

 

Featuring archival images, alongside a series of original essays on the world of Bond by BAFTA-longlisted film writer James Clarke, plus new interviews with several of the actors featured in the photographs, the book is an absolute stunner, and a thrilling look back at the sort of movie star glamour that is in so short supply these days (with all respect to Brad, Leo and Renee’s 2020 Oscar appearances). The shots of Connery cavorting around a glittery Las Vegas in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) are alone worth the price of admission.

The book is meant to complement an exhibition at London’s Iconic Images Gallery, which of course is currently closed; but the museum has launched a virtual exhibit in its stead. The actual book release has also been compromised by the pandemic, but it will be available in the UK May 1, and in the US later this summer. Naturally, we recommend all digital viewings be conducted over a gin martini or two—shaken, not stirred, surely.

 

BlackBook Premiere: Visceral New Reliant Tom Single ‘Nevermind The Garbage’

Image by Amanda Kaye

 

 

Inspiration can take many forms; but often it’s hardship and instability that are the catalysts for the best art.

For Claire Cuny of Brooklyn-based avant-garde rockers Reliant Tom, the unexpected passing of her father in 2018—on the day of their debut album release no less—provided ample inspiration of the more somber sort, which she has since tapped into for the making of their follow up Play & Rewind. “Nevermind The Garbage” (which BlackBook premieres here) is the first single from the album, and is released this Friday, March 27.

 

 

“The song is about trying to return to a semi-normal routine,” Cuny explains, “by learning to manage the grief and anxiety that overcame me after the sudden loss of my father.”

Building from moody ballad, to Cobain-worthy midsection (it’s impossible not to think of him when the word “nevermind” is brought up), and ending in a sparse trance of harmonics, the track viscerally captures the rise and fall of emotions that came with the death. Of course, Cuny’s longing for a return to normality is something exceedingly relatable right now, as the coronavirus outbreak has left us with anything but.

 

Six (Mostly) French Things We Love About the Wythe Hotel’s New ‘Le Crocodile’ Restaurant

Images by Read McKendree

 

These days, with weekend hordes taking over Williamsburg’s N. Wythe Avenue, and the spillover reaching over to Greenpoint’s Franklin Street, it’s easy to forget that about a decade ago, both hoods were just reaching ‘coolhunter’ recognition point. Indeed, when the Wythe Hotel opened in 2012, it brought a jolt of grownup urbanity to an area more used to self-parodic hipster dives.

The rooftop bar, then The Ides, now Lemon’s, was pulling people across the river from the Gansevoort, and the Reynard restaurant was a genuine scene.

 

 

But this being NYC, things changed quickly once developers realized that all those empty lots and car repair shops on the northside had billion-dollar views of Manhattan, once you built up a few stories. Boutique hotels, and their restaurants, now outnumber bike shops and dance clubs…even Output, after five years of Berlin style nightclubbing, closed in 2018. So the Wythe’s new restaurant Le Crocodile arrives prepared to do battle with all these other new epicurean contenders…and luckily it’s, well, armed to the teeth.

Boasting chefs from chic Greenpoint bistro Chez Ma Tante—itself a notable result of gentrification—Le Crocodile (how long before everyone just starts calling it Le Croc?) is now serving up classic French fare, with wonderfully inspired touches, and atmosphere to spare.

Here’s what we loved.

 

 

Le Style

In both Brooklyn and Paris, restaurateurs seem equally aware of how lighting, recognizable design elements, and intelligent use of space are all critical in creating an invitingly endemic ambiance. Here it’s a delicate balance of BK meets Par-ee (by local design studio LOVEISENOUGH), with brick walls, booths of deep burgundy leather, prevailing dark wood detailing, patterned floors, and theatrical globe chandeliers all lending warmth to the high-ceilinged industrial space. The effect is both dramatic and welcoming. Seated next to us was a heavily tattooed couple avec toddler…so we felt right at home with the crowd, as well.

Le Steak

Steak frites was once as important in our lives as our Serge Gainsbourg records—but its ubiquity has dampened its significance. Le Crocodile, however, brings the steak au poivre, not as common as you would think in NYC…and it’s as good as any we’ve had in our fave Marais brasseries. Seriously.

Le Frisee

Almost as crucial is a good salade Lyonnais. And Le Crocodile smartly reinvents it with the familiar lardons replaced by chunks of smoked eel to incredibly delicious effect. We were instructed to mix the semi-poached egg around as the dressing, and the result was epicurean sublimity.

 

 

Le Pâté

Though the various duck and chicken liver incarnations also hold a special place for us, we’re honestly lucky to find an unimaginative pâté de campagne on any given menu. But here it comes in six different and glorious possibilities, including country pâté with foie gras and pistachio, chicken liver pâté with cassis jelly, and pâté grandmère with apple mustard. Order one up at the bar, paired with a rustic red glass of Burgundy, for some serious art de vivre.

Les G&Ts

Gin and tonics are a signature at the bar, with six versions of the classic (by drinks wizard Jim Kearns of Slowly Shirley fame) that combine a variety of spirits with varying tonics; we had Tanqueray No. 10 London Dry Gin with citrus tonic, and it was simplicity and perfection at once. The enormous wine goblet it was served in was a bit of a head scratcher at first…but then we just went with it.

Les Desserts

Complacency often informs the bottom of bistro and brasserie menus: here’s your crème brûlée, or a familiar sorbet, and that’s about it. But Le Crocodile offers nothing less than a dozen very sweet options, including profiteroles, tarte tatin, chocolate pot de crème and, oui, crème brûlée. If you’re having a Proustian moment, the madeleines come in generous groupings of six or 12.

 

BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The New Thompson Washington DC Hotel

 

 

It was slightly ironic that a recent trip we took to DC coincided with the Oscars, as it reminded us of the obviously insulting line ascribed to a number of political pundits, including Joe Scarborough: “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.” Seeing Charlize, Brad, et al, on the small screen, did again prove that still nothing can compete with Tinseltown in the (manufactured) glamour department—yet HWood be dammed, we were on your way to what was surely the capital’s most glamorous new hotel.

Opened in early January, the brand-new Thompson Washington DC, the Beltway outpost of the brand whose roots go back 20 years to Manhattan’s actual Thompson Street, where 60 Thompson (now SIXTY Soho) was one of the first destination hotels for the post 9/11 prosperity generation. Twenty years on and the vibe at this Thompson was just as cool, with a huge, light-filled lobby and bar dominating the ground floor space. The reception desk was tucked away in a corner.

 

 

Our room was pure class—no flimsy or overly cheeky design elements—with elegant, dark wood and brass furniture and fixtures, a very well stocked mini bar (we’re fine with in-room yoga mats and wellness options, but not at the expense of vodka and prosecco), and a spacious terrace overlooking DC’s hot new hood, The Yards, in the old Navy Yard.

On our first evening, we were thrilled to check out the outpost of one of our NYC faves, Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare, an offshoot of Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Park celeb magnet, which focuses on Roman trattoria fare; we indulged in their specialty fried baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms with white wine and anchovy, fettuccine with ruby red shrimp, with each dish building to an encore of lemon custard with toasted pine nuts and an almond crust.

 

Maialino Mare

 

Up and out the next day, we were determined to take advantage of as much as we could in a town with increasingly interesting diversions—even some that aren’t affiliated with the Smithsonian. The Navy Yard itself is on the southeast side of downtown, on the banks of the Anacostia River; Nationals Park is two blocks west, and amidst the numerous older nautical buildings are rising shiny apartments and stores to accommodate the latest wave of policy wonks/wonkettes. We started with a bracing stroll along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, stretching 20 miles on both sides of the river; we only made it about a quarter mile before getting distracted, realizing we should have probably grabbed a bike from Capital Bikeshare, as the Thompson provides them gratis.

After a day of cultural pursuits, including stopping to awe at a few monuments (while we still have a democracy), and a tour of the inspiring Freer Gallery of Art (The Peacock Room is James Whistler’s opulent masterpiece of mural art, and a must see) we headed back to the Yards for dinner at District Winery, an awesome space that includes said winemaking operation, a wine related boutique, and the restaurant Ana, where we were impressed to discover some of the tastiest vegetarian options on any menu we’ve yet come across.

 

The Peacock Room at Freer Gallery of Art

 

Not that there wasn’t plenty for carnivores, from roasted scallops to a NY strip, but we ordered the excellent market vegetable “Shawarma” with roasted vegetables, beet falafel, pink lentil hummus, creamy tahini sauce, and lavash cracker, and Meadow Creek Grayson cappelletti with pickled pear, cultured butter, onion petals, and basil oil; the sourdough spelt bread was a particularly special treat.

We retired to catch the last half of the Oscars (still too long), congratulating ourselves on how much we saved not bothering to deck out like Scarlett and Leo, while still enjoying a lavish dinner. And flopping down in our thrift store loungewear, we were contented with the luxury of catching the awards show on a state of the art, 55″ flat screen.

 

Somewhere

 

The next day, before heading back north, we took a walk around some of the Yard’s shops, stopping in Steadfast Supply, a creative retail shop and curated events hub featuring goods from local small businesses and independent brands…and Somewhere, a sleek space dedicated to bringing the global fashion conversation to the capital. Both boutiques gleamed with newness of a new kind of DC.

Sadly, the one thing we didn’t get a chance to try was Trapeze School NY, located just a couple of blocks from the hotel. Merely a good excuse for us to already be planning a springtime return to the Thompson.

 

Downtown NYC Enigma Eszter Balint Returns to the Stage with ‘I Hate Memory’

 

 

For those of us whose impressionable years owe as much to avant-garde film as they do David Bowie and The Clash, Eszter Balint’s turn as a Hungarian teenager visiting New York in Jim Jarmusch’s absurdist 1984 film Stranger Than Paradise will be forever remembered.

Like her character, Eszter also emigrated west from Hungary, when the performance art troupe started by her father—Squat Theater—moved to the Chelsea Hotel in the early ‘70s, developing a niche alongside Andy Warhol’s Factory productions. Meanwhile in the UK, Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti’s COUM theater group was creating similar happenings before morphing into Throbbing Gristle…but that’s another story.

After her debut in …Paradise, Balint continued working in film, with parts in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog and Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge—but her turn as Louis CK’s girlfriend in the second season of Louie won raves, and landed her squarely back in the cultural zeitgeist.

 

 

But over the last decade and a half, Balint has actually concentrated almost exclusively on making music, releasing a brace of critically acclaimed albums, and playing with the heroes of the downtown NYC experimental scene, like Marc Ribot, Swans, and John Lurie (her co-star all those years ago in Stranger Than Paradise).

So it’s genuinely gratifying to see her returning to the stage. Indeed, next month she’ll be workshopping—meaning, it’s not a final product—what she calls an anti-cabaret, that goes by the intriguing title I Hate Memory. Based around a set of songs, the show reads as an autobiographical journey, with a psychological subtext that sounds more than relevant for these less than ideal times.

‘The show is about a period time when there was more of a collaborative spirit in the air,” she explains, “so to work with others in a what feels like playground is fitting. So it’s a little different from my past work as a songwriter where I work in a much more solitary way until recording the songs or performing them live.”

 

 

And she will indeed be working with an impressive list of creative conspirators: musicians Marlon Cherry, Brian Geltner, Kato Hideki, David Nagler, and actors Esme Thorne, Felice Rosser, Tammy Faye Starlite.

“At the heart of this whole thing are the songs,” she enthuses, “which is still what turns me on the most. I love songs, I live for songs, I worship at the altar of music and songs. But it’s incredibly exciting to be expanding the canvas and fit them into a bigger vision.”

Performances are March 20, 21, 27 and 28, at Dixon Place on NYC’s Bowery. It’s a rare opportunity to see an even rarer talent at her most essential.

 

Stranger Than Paradise