My adventures in cookie construction have an A side and a B side. One contains bacon.
So does tonight’s album, which is David Cook’s sophomore album, This Loud Morning (AOL stream), due to drop on June 28. It has an A side and a B side, that is. Bacon may be implied but is never explicitly referenced, other than that presumably this work allows him to bring some home. The album does, however, have broad-shouldered songs (the shoulders being necessary to heft around a startling variety of instruments) with heavy guitar and heavy metaphor.
This is not exactly a concept album, in that it neither contains random 2-minute tracks consisting entirely of weird effects, nor is it positively necessary to listen to the whole album, in order, to “get” it. The first song and the last two songs benefit from being heard in their assigned spots. The others do form a musical and lyrical arc, but most pop out alone reasonably well, and the common threads among the songs can survive rearrangements and omissions if some of the peculiarities of tracking are beyond your tolerance. We, however, are going to begin at the beginning. We’re also going to make rather a lot of cookies.
Preheat your oven to 400, as we are about to candy bacon.
Isn’t that an inspiring opening line? Sprinkle the bacon with brown sugar and pop it in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, watching it carefully. I promise I removed the burnt bits before using it. I remember this because I ate them.
While we let the oven cool, this is a good time to start with Circadian. The opening, per producer Matt Serletic, is glockenspiel and toy piano. Did I promise odd instruments? Oh, yes! This is joined by grown-up piano, a faint ocean-crashing effect (appropriate to the “Mayday!” chorus), and the most cynical lyrics since Sara Bareilles’ “King of Anything” (Cook is openly a Bareilles fan). Ocean references will reappear in later songs, as will blazing guitar bridges. The eerie children’s choir at the end will have fewer recurrences.
More important, “Circadian” sets up the concept of the album: an outside world so stressful that sleep is a welcome escape. Much of the rest of the album is a dream sequence. If you’re thinking Inception, it’s not a bad thought.
Take a stick-and-a-half of unsalted butter that’s had a chance to soften and whip it, whip it good. Note the celebratory photography to demonstrate that I did not coat the entire kitchen with butter. Also note that we’re starting not with the bacon-infused cookies but with an oatmeal-craisin-chocolate chip cookie. The base recipe is Salted Oatmeal Cookies from the Washington Post.
Right Here, With You presumably has to do with arrival in dreamland, as it constitutes a complete change of view from helplessness to efficacy: suddenly the viewpoint character is somebody else’s hero. Nonetheless, the escape metaphor is still present with “we could run away somehow.” (Also oceans! “The waves will always break.”) Note the falsetto on the bridge (before the guitar solo): it’ll be back later, too.
To the whipped butter, add 1 cup light brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar. Whip it some more. This is the point at which butter goes all over the kitchen. I’m thinking seriously that all future kitchens should be yellow.
We Believe is openly Cook’s shot at writing an inspirational song after his philanthropic trip to Ethiopia in 2010. “Inspirational” is always a tough sell for me, despite my idealistic side, because if one wants one’s inspirational song to be heard often enough to inspire anybody, the lyrics have to run on a simple enough rhyme scheme that large crowds can sing it while wiping tears from their cheeks. This tends to weed out emotional complexity. Cook puts some complexity back in with the guitar bridge, which is so dark that it’s almost horror-movie material. Some of the darkness can be attributed to inclusion of a theramin, and we’re all hip enough to know what that is, right? (2011 is the Year of the Theramin.)
Fade Into Me moves into waltz time and picks up, from its beginning, the theme of needing to escape from the stress of the day. (The ocean’s back, too, but in a good way.)
At this point, it’s becoming apparent that to Cook, love is a warm mid-tempo power ballad with a big chorus and a guitar bridge. While there’s logical thematic development among the A-side songs, it’s a lot of power ballads in a row. “Fade Into Me” may be my pick for the best of the set, partly because waltz time is typically where Cook is at his best in developing the momentum of a song. A second reason is that lots of people bandy about “two become one” metaphors, but this is one of the few that I’ve found novel, internally consistent, and convincing.
Let the momentum sweep you into adding one teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, two eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix it all up and then add 1-3/4 cups flour and 2 cups of rolled oats. You will find it hard to believe that so much flour and oats can be absorbed by the wet ingredients.
Hard to Believe, with its martial drum beat and menacing honking intro, starts to develop the theme of eroding efficacy. Despite its very large chorus, it’s where the hope and faith of “Right Here, With You” and “We Believe” starts to turn to cynicism and doubt. The stars that were going to be triumphantly ripped from the sky in “Right Here, With You” now fall on their own. On the “odd effects” list goes the “heard over cheap radio speakers” effect that appears with the choruses. Yes: that’ll be back later.
If you’re still thinking about Inception, the metaphor of one person guiding the other through a confusing landscape is not irrelevant.
Into the batter, we’re going to add a generous (if unmeasured) quantity of craisins and an equal quantity of milk chocolate chips. Here’s where purists point out that this recipe is supposed to highlight the simple virtues of butter, vanilla, and oats. Well, yes. But the way I make cookies is that I put stuff in them. That’s my definition of a cookie. Finding the appetizing balance of stuff is its own sort of challenge: the chips are milk chocolate to play against the tartness of the craisins. If you’re a connoisseur of the simplicity of the sugar cookie, my baking will be a tough sell for you.
Similarly, This Loud Morning tends to be a big, baroque, anthemic album. Even Take Me As I Am, which starts with stripped-down voice and piano, requires serious pyrotechnics when it hits the chorus. If you’re looking for minimalist alt-rock, you’re out of luck. Cook’s idea of a song has lots of stuff in it. One can argue whether a given song balanced the tart and the sweet optimally (“Hard to Believe” has a mix of beat and vocals that unsettles me; “Take Me As I Am” is almost entirely sweet, though the “give me one more chance” implies that thematically, we’re into decay) — but there will be stuff. Lots of stuff.
It’s time for the B side! Put the craisin-oatmeal batter in the refrigerator, set the oven to 325, take a gander at Candied Bacon-Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy, and put in a bowl some butter and sugar. I started out to make half a recipe, realized that was far too little batter, and took it back to the original size, so most of the photos in this strip are “oops!” incidents. Except the bacon!
So go with the recommended stick of butter, 1/2 cup of white sugar, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Whip it good.
Time Marches On brings a complete change of mood, starting with rougher and distorted vocals and what I’d swear is a guitar being played with something rather than a pick. The song ticks more than marches. The ocean is back! Falsetto is back! “You came into love with my heart on your sleeve” — that’s a variant on “I wear your heart on my sleeve” from “Declaration,” the lead track of Cook’s prior album. (Intertextuality for the win!)
The theme is also decay, big time: the dream world has turned into “the same damned place in a different year.” I’ll admit that, after the barrage of power ballads on the A side, I’m strongly taken with this song. It’s rough. It’s difficult. It’s layered! It contains copious stuff arrayed in interlocking contrasts of mood. (Whoa! The radio effect and distant choral echoes are here.)
The rest of the ingredients in this recipe are:
–1 large egg
–1 teaspoon baking powder
–1/2 teaspoon baking soda
–1 teaspoon vanilla
–1-1/4 cups of flour
The peculiarity of my order of photos is echoed by the sudden appearance of The Last Goodbye (which has a strikingly funny video that brings back the ocean, if we’ve missed it). The “heard over radio speakers” effect reaches its apotheosis, and I suspect there’s some more guitar-playing shenanigans in the intro. Oh, and distant choral oohs. The incongruity isn’t the song’s being up-tempo. It’s that it’s ostensibly about summarily ending a relationship and being good with the decision.
And yet the next track is Paper Heart, in which the viewpoint character is being left against his will. It’s odd tracking. Chalk it up to trying to pace the songs. Or to being less decisive than one meant to be. Or to wanting to be stopped from leaving. Or to falling back asleep. Anyway, pay attention to “Paper Heart,” which starts dream-like and develops into a menacing guitar riff, though it takes its water in the form of rain rather than ocean. (Distant radio effect! Yes! It’s in the background.) Also note that among the metaphors is the other person fading away, a reversal of the meaning of “Fade Into Me.” Also pay attention to bacon. What I put in the food processor is eight strips, four candied and four from the morning that hadn’t been candied. Whir! (Yes, there are some whirring effects in the song.)
Mix in the bacon (it’s about half a cup) and a similar amount of dark chocolate chips. These need to be bittersweet chips to counter the richness of the bacon.
Four Letter Word resolves the tracking conflict in favor of ambivalence. (That’s very Cook.) It’s a catchy, bouncy song that picks up the fading metaphor again as it weaves back and forth between hope and despair. (I’m starting to think some of the opening riffs echo one another from song to song, but my ear simply isn’t good enough to be sure. Pfui.) This is admittedly one of my favorites, not only for the obvious pun, but because it ratchets around the question — begged by the construction of the album — of what stays a dream (or turns to a nightmare) and what can survive in the daylight, and it doesn’t resolve it as whimsically as Christina Perri’s “Daydream” or with the ranting self-congratulation of Ne-Yo’s “Beautiful Monster.” It’s a very human song.
Line the baking pan with parchment paper and scoop out tiny cookies, far apart. These puppies spread! The photographed “done” cookies — 15 minutes, like Barry Manilow’s ode to fame — are from the second batch that came out better.
Goodbye to the Girl goes further in the direction of despair, picks up the metaphor of colors from “Fade Into Me” (this time as the colors of a bruise), brings back the ocean, and is the most stripped-down track of the album (it’s the one written with bandmates Neal Tiemann and Andy Skib; other tracks have assorted co-writers). It initially sounds as if it’s going to expand on “The Last Goodbye” theme of being glad to be done with the relationship. It doesn’t. It does pick up the Inception theme that the only way back — to somewhere — is jumping off a ledge. But the real world… remember the real world from the opening song? The real world that seems to have invaded the dream world, since the viewpoint character is drowning here, too?
After the bacon cookies are all baked, turn up the oven to 375. Repeat the procedure with the chilled oatmeal dough except (1) sprinkle with sea salt as if you’re dusting with sugar and (2) limit the baking time to about 10 minutes, maybe 12.
All right, the opening riff from Rapid Eye Movement surely echoes the prior song’s key motifs! And this one’s all about trying to get back — but to which layer of imagination or reality? Is it trying to get back to the real world from the broken dream or to the dream world from the all-too-loud real world?
The song says the problem is being kept awake, but it also mentions a cycle that never seems to end. (Cue radio echo effect! Ocean metaphor! Ocean effect!) And then… stay with this song to its end. Anything sound familiar? Say… toy piano? Change of mood from nightmarish to merely dreamlike with an edge? Echoing voices like a long-ago S.O.S. signal?
Yes, the album’s circular. That’s why the first and last songs have to stay put. And it’s ambiguous.
But you want an unambiguous answer to the question of how the cookies taste.
The bacon-chocolate chip cookies are the provocative, ambiguous ones. Bacon works better than one might expect as a chewy, salty effect. The dark chocolate is very intense, and one of these cookies will do you for quite a few hours. (Yes, I had one for breakfast. It contains bacon. It’s a breakfast food.)
The amplified oatmeal cookies are one of my major successes: the richness of the original recipe is still there, but the craisins and milk chocolate chips provide depth and piquancy. Fortunately, the batch here was large.
Since we’re wrapping up on a sweet note, let’s… well, let’s wrap up on a sweet note. This placement of “Fade Into Me” onto Since You Think You Can Dance reminds me of the other reason I especially like it that the Big Sexy Song is in 3/4 time rather than the more obviously carnal 4/4. Waltz time is (to me, at least) the time signature of cooperation and mutuality.