For a small state, Connecticut poses large problems. My Virgil in the 50 states / 50 dishes / 50 bands project, the Boston Phoenix, led me to “dark metal” band Ipsissimus, which rendered me speechless. Second choice The Guru is more shoegaze, and my shoes have endured enough scrutiny lately (most recently, in Las Vegas).
Frantic Googling led me to CT Indie, the endlessly entertaining online publication about local-ish indie bands, and discovered that these nice people have a Soundcloud (here) that serves as a music sampler for acts they interview. This is how I found the retro Brit-pop stylings of The Brain Room (Reverbnation site) to help us with the traditional Connecticut dish of election cake (Washington Post recipe).
Don’t even think about preheating the oven! This is a yeast dough, so it could take days.
Instead, click the first entry at The Brain Room’s Reverbnation site (right here) and prepare to be transported to the pre-grunge late 1980s, complete with angsty vocals. The sneaky little “duh duh mmmm” riff of “High Fidelity” charms me, most particularly because it’s echoed in the vocals in an almost fugue-like way. The Brain Room’s songwriter, John Cahill, has classical piano training, so that’s no leap.
The greater leap is getting me to tackle yeast bread, as I struggle with getting the dough to rise before our desert air dessicates it.
I cut the recipe in half, so 2-1/4 teaspoons dry yeast to 1/4 cup warm water and 1/4 cup room-temperature milk. Dissolve that (like the high hat cymbal sound dissolves into air) and remember to add 3/4 cup flour. Let it rise for 45 minutes in a warm place, which means yes, there was bread rising next to the sofa. Think of it as “homey.”
Cahill also cites as influences Muse, Radiohead, and the greats of Iceland alt-rock, so it’s also not a stretch to expect deftness and elegance in emotional tone. As for the other band members: cellist Noah Capurso also has a classical background, while drummer Todd Ellison’s favorite bands are… heavy metal.
When the dough looks like something that emerged from a swamp with malicious intent, cream together half a stick of butter and a little more than 1/4 cup sugar. Beat in an egg.
Now it’s spice time! Due to my lack of bowls, I add all spices directly to the wet ingredients. I used cinnamon, allspice, and coriander, plus a pinch of salt. Mix well and add a good handful each of raisins, dates, and chopped walnuts.
The second track, “Singapore,” starts with water-dripping synths, then unexpectedly picks up a string riff that provides a weirdly grounded contrast to the heavy reverb on the vocals.
“Weird contrast” is our signal to mix the yeast sponge into the sweet dough. The improbability of this entire idea confounds me.
Then add some more flour, maybe 3/4 cup. I’m not sure this was my best idea, since I intended to do the final rise overnight in the refrigerator, and one wants a wet dough for that. However, thinking of this a week later counts as “too late.”
Let’s cheer ourselves up by moving on to “Gravity,” which starts with downright happy piano, despite the grimmer cello line weaving behind it.
I’m also infatuated with the chords on the chorus. My brain still can’t do much with them (glares at untouched music theory book across room), but I can recognize the sort of big stacked chords that show up in Bach, and I strongly suspect that sometimes we’re getting these notes as chords and sometimes expanded into runs.
Part of my delight in these chords is how they transform a moody lyric into a song that’s about resolution and hope. Done Morrissey-style, this song would have people slitting their wrists; as The Brain Room handles it, this is upbeat and positive, a grown-up love song.
I have no idea if the dough rose or not. I put it on the counter for half an hour, then turned it into little balls, which I let rest or rise or otherwise find their destinies for another half hour while the oven preheated to 350.
Why rolls? Well, there were only local elections this year, and those are little elections, so they get little cakes. (Okay, you know the drill: I do baked-goods in cupcake-size portions because it’s easier for me to then freeze the extras.)
As rolls, these need maybe 25 minutes. Mine were in the oven for 30 and look a little brown.
The taste is just good enough that I might try working on my yeast dough technique: sweet, spicy, and squishy with dates.
As for The Brain Trust… damn, I want sheet music for “Gravity.” Don’t those chords just sound fun to play?