Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A GREAT FRIEND, KRISTIAN, HAS IMPECCABLE TASTE IN MUSIC. He created this playlist to share with his pals, but I didn't want it to go unheard by the thousands dozens who follow here. And so I give you The Guest Playlist, something I've been meaning to do for a long time. More music that's perfect for your cocktail parties this holiday season or for a solo stomp through some melancholy streets this winter. 

Here's what Kristian has to say about his mix:

I'll never let the magic go... 
I'll float away into your afterglow. 

Winter is the season of nostalgia, so it's probably no coincidence that many of these songs are concerned with the past. Hanging on to it. Learning from it. Sounding like it. Letting it go.

"Wings" by Haerts was the impetus for this mix and the inspiration for its title. Try not to float away into a haze of faded summers, lost loves, regrets and reckless hope.

 I hope your 2012 has been and continues to be magical. Don't let it go. Enjoy.


Float Away Into Your Afterglow

  1. Walk on By -  El Perro del Mar
  2. Paradise - Wild Nothing
  3. Wings - HAERTS
  4. Cold Feet - Lost Lander
  5. True Grit - Joywave
  6. Form - Poliça
  7. Northern Lights - Kate Boy
  8. Don't Let Me Down - Solange
  9. Runaway - Mr. Little Jeans
10. Promises (Plastic Plates Remix) - The Presets
11. September - St. Lucia
12. Good Times - Bright Light Bright Light
13. Mainline (feat. Syron) - Tensnake
14. Run Run Run - Dragonette
15. Curtain Music - Rough Fields
16. I Was a Boy - El Perro del Mar

ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL DOTEY. He captured my very own 'Paradise', our condo in Florida. (SEE PICTURES HERE.) We're about to spend the month of January there, resetting our brains to Perpetual Vacation Mode, and also planning all the details of our racearoundtheworld. It looks like we're starting with New Zealand, so if you have any suggestions please leave me a message!

Soon there will be more than music posts here, too. But with my life consumed by packing and cocktailing, it's all I seem to be doing. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

'Tis the season for getting together, whether it be weeks-in-the-making or an impromptu nosh on a scarce weeknight. With so little time to see everyone, it's important you're always prepared.

Stock up on the essentials: wine (red, white and sparkling), vodka, gin, whisky and a slew of mixes.  Make sure your ice cube trays are full, have some at-the-ready cheese and a box of crackers on-hand. 

And have your playlist ready.

Songs for Open Doors

  1. Paradise - Wild Nothing
  2. All Eyes on Your - St. Lucia
  3. Locked in Closets - Solange
  4. Not the Same - Tanlines
  5. These Chains - Hot Chip
  6. She Always Gets What She Wants - Florrie
  7. Only the Horses - Scissor Sisters
  8. Wonderful Life - Estelle
  9. All the Time - Diamond Rings
10. Lost in my Bedroom - Sky Ferreira
11. Stay - Rihanna
12. Freedom - Paloma Faith
13. Answers Come in Dreams - Hercules and Love Affair
14. Figure 8 - Ellie Goulding
15. Call of the Wild - Florrie
16. New Year - Beach House
17. Music to Walk Home By - Tame Impala

Songs for Winter Cocktailing (December 11, 2010)

Monday, December 3, 2012

THANKS SO MUCH for your kind feedback about our travel plans. Now that it's out in the open, it feels so much realer. I can hardly believe it's December; the countdown is on.

As such, our apartment is beginning to fill up with boxes and bins in preparation. We're slowly divesting ourselves of things, selling some on Craigslist, gifting others to friends, packing a pile into storage, and all at a strange time of year.

December is a month rife with consumption, both of calories and tangible goods. It's the time of year when brown paper packages and tokens are given at an alarming rate. Anyone with (or in close proximity to) children knows that the next few weeks mean two things: new plastic shit and a whole ton of boxes to break down.

So I thought the Unfettered Gift Guide would be suitable. A list of consumables you might consider giving, rather than bulking up the life of a loved one with stuff. While clothing and trinkets and candlesticks  are lovely, consider gifts that disappear in no time or those that are purely utilitarian.

1 BOOZE Perhaps it's my particular clique, but I've never seen disappointment in the eyes of a friend on the receiving end of a bottle of hootch. Skip wine and give something they might not normally buy themselves: a bottle of liqueur or something to flesh out their liquor cabinetGO CANADIAN Victoria (1) is a beautiful premium gin out of British Columbia. Small batch, artisanal blah blah blah, but objectively terrific. On par with Hendrick's or any other premium spirit.  

2 CHEESE Be sure to save things like this for friends who give a couple F's about cheese. A $50 wedge of Beemster® (2) thrust into unknowing hands will fall flat, but offered to a cheese whore like me and who knows how I'll show my gratitude. ADVANCED Put together a whole kit; include cheese, great crackers, some neat olives, a bag of taralli, some dried fruit. But remember Rule 13 and be clear that your gift is for their enjoyment later.

3 MEDIA  Hook a friend up with a handful of your Top 5 iPhone Apps. Or get them hooked on one-and-a-half seasons of Homeland. Give that Kindle-lover in your life your favourite books. Maybe a great host gift would be some fresh, new music, like Solange's new EP. Best of the year, for certain (3). All of this can be done through iTunes and doesn't clutter up their fireplace mantle. LIKE A ROCKEFELLER Buy an iPod Shuffle and pack it full of music. A mixed tape for a new generation.

4 PAPER GOODS Share some local artwork like these cards (4) from Toronto's Deadweight. They double as useful and mean your recipient can pay your gift forward by sending a note to a third party. Be sure to include a book of stamps (The Regiments are particularly neat, available now) so they have no excuse but to sit right down and send a letter. LIKE A ROCKEFELLER Include a great pen.

KITCHEN TOOLS 1000 years ago, a Nomad would've appreciated a sharp blade or a wheel on his way through town. Share your favourite implement of the present, whether it be a budget-busting Le Creuset (5) or a super-useful measuring cup. When you give a kitchen tool you're not only providing on an object they'll use often, you're giving them a little piece of your tradition, your process. Every time they pull out that awesome wooden spoon they'll think of you. And isn't that nice? ADVANCED Create a kit based around a cherished family recipe; everything someone might need to make your Great Grandma's gingersnaps. Right down to the right molasses. But remember to keep it functional and avoid the cumbersome (yet decorative) basket. Plant everything in a great mixing bowl and skip the cellophane.

6 CLOTHES Like sharp tools, keep this category purely business. Gloves (6) or new scarf, maybe sunglasses (7)LIKE A ROCKEFELLER Those winter boots they can't justify buying or the awesome watch (8) they've been eyeing all year.

7 THE EXPERIENTIAL GIFT These are perfect for kids, if you can get past their disappointment on Christmas morning. Trust me, while they might not understand the coupon for a trip to the zoo, they'll remember you next July when it happens. LIKE A ROCKEFELLER Step it up a major notch and promise your Mom a weekend in New York or take friends to a ski lodge in the doldrums of February.

Coming soon, a new holiday playlist. Check out last year's mix, which still holds up, and one from 2010, too!

EAT, GAY, LOVE: Travel 2013
The Announcement (November 28, 2012)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We have some fairly significant news.

We've decided to spend the better part of next year traveling the world.  In July we'll celebrate 10 years together and what better (or more romantic!) way to ring it in than by traipsing all over the planet? We always said we'd do a trip like this, and it's time to get. it. done.

Around the world in 80 gays. Or more like 300.

So it's official. Jeff resigned from his job this week and we sold our apartment. With a quick 30-day closing just around the corner, there's lots to be done. We'll store some stuff, purge lots, and leave the delicate bits and bobs with friends. After Christmas we'll head to Fort Lauderdale for a few weeks, where we'll narrow our focus, research like mad, and plot the details.

One thing we have in mind is the Star Alliance Program, a network of airlines which offer round-the-world flights. Within one year you can fly as many as 39 000 miles (or 16 times, whichever comes first) at considerably lower rates. You must travel in one direction without backtracking. When you land at each hub you're free to roam regionally using other planes, trains, boats, and buses which you book separately. This will give our journey a good dose of structure, which will be nice for our mental health, with so many uncertainties sure to crop up. But other than knowing our major stops, I like the idea of keeping things loose. Australian escapades in February, India by April and an anniversary dinner in Paris by July. 

The world is a much smaller place these days, so be sure to stay tuned to Twitter and Instagram for up-to-the-minute stories and pictures. And I'll be blogging a lot. Over the next several weeks, as we begin to create our itinerary, I'll post our plans and very much encourage you to chime in and tell us what we must see and do at each stop along the way. Wish us luck.

(Only our potential itinerary. This is for illustrative purposes only.)

Illustration by the brilliantly talented Paul Dotey. Maps are his jam.

THE BUSINESS END: If you edit/operate a travel or food publication, I will happily make myself available for interesting jobs as we make our way around the world. I can be reached via email at

Friday, November 9, 2012

While Toronto hasn't seen the wild weather of, say, New York City, we are moving swiftly toward the dark and cold misery of the months to come. And so this week has seen pasta, chili, and  most-recently a thick, gravy-laden beef stew.

Hearty Beef Stew

2lbs stewing beef, cut into large hunks
A large onion, roughly chopped
Approximately 2 cups of red wine
Approximately 2 cups of beef stock
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
3 or 4 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
12-15 pearl onions, peeled but left whole
A few bay leaves
A handful or two of fresh thyme leaves
A tablespoon of rough-chopped rosemary
A cup of peas, frozen
1 tablespoon of cornstarch + cold water

On medium-high, heat a splash of vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven. Season your meat with salt and pepper, lightly dredge in flour and brown thoroughly in batches. Remove the meat and set aside. Deglaze the pan with a quarter cup of red wine for a moment before tossing in your vegetables. Return the meat to the pan and cover with the rest of the wine and the beef broth. Add the herbs, but reserve the peas. Jack up your heat and burn off some of the alcohol in the wine before leaving it to a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for an hour and a half (or so) until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked through. Add a few handfuls of peas and a standard cornstarch slurry, increase your heat and allow your stew to thicken-up for a few minutes. Season as you see fit and serve with way too much bread and butter. 

Presto, It's Pesto (April 2012)
Chickening Out (March 2012)
Cumin & Brown Sugar-Crusted Pork Tenderloin w/ Cognac Cream Sauce (February 2012)
Beef Ragu with Maccheroni (March 2012)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I've written about love and friendship, coming out, gay marriage, my relationship with my Dad. About risking every ounce of affection that surrounds you in the slim chance you'll be cast out. I've covered a lot of territory, but I hadn't necessarily realized how much has been steeped in one sort of notion. The idea that maybe today is the day they'll stop loving me. 

Even for a Canadian with all the rights he deserves, today's U.S. Presidential election feels like dead man walking. For 1000 noble reasons, the United States is the Holy Grail. It might be 300 years of clever PR or just folklore run amok, but if it sticks in America, it feels like the world is a better place. And so if equality, tolerance, simple love doesn't exist there, it might as well not exist anywhere.

Needless to say, this election is bringing up my deep-seated rejection issues. And the socio-political sort don't feel all that different than the tiny ones of childhood.

Anna was an inordinately-beautiful 9 year old girl from the former Yugoslavia. My best friend Ryan and I plucked her and the other new girl that first day of 4th grade. Our teachers called us the Four Musketeers and we were inseparable.

As is often the case in these mixed, pre-pubescent circles, puppy love bubbled up. I was infatuated with Anna. For months (then years) I adored her. She knew this, everyone did. On one of those first days of Spring, when, to avoid wearing it, you strap your winter coat between your back and your knapsack, we were all walking home together. Anna asked me if I wanted a kiss and led me from the group, a few meters away. When I leaned in to kiss her, she kicked me, very hard, in the balls.

Later that night I told Ryan that I was upset. I told him, inexplicably, that I had just cried in the bathtub. I see now that I was an easy target with my wide-eyed vulnerability, but I was who I was. The next day everyone knew I was kicked in the balls, sure, but they also knew I'd cried about it.

It was something like friendly fire, I guess. I'm not sure I've figured out (even 20 years later) why I let my friends be so cruel to me. But they were, more often than not. Ryan was mean to me in groups, but kind and sweet when we were alone. He was a bit of a ragamuffin; giant oversized t-shirts, pant legs that always dragged, the toes of his socks long and limp out in front of him. He was funny and wild and had a water bed. His room was a wreck and he swore like a sailor. I can still smell him if I try hard enough. He was intoxicating when he wasn't hanging me out to dry.

I met Aaron in seventh grade. He lived around the corner, but attended another elementary school, so none of us knew him. I don't remember how we met, exactly, but I remember how he made me feel. He was strong and muscled, a good-looking kid. He played competitive baseball. He was decidedly boyish, but also bookish and well-behaved. His family was Christian.

And for some reason he liked me, this scrawny, mincing, unathletic boy. He was always kind to me. I didn't have to fight for his affection. We became fast friends that year; I'd hurry home from school so I could hang out with him.

He replaced my friends completely that spring, 1994.

I went to Ryan's house to explain that I didn't want to be friends anymore. He had removed the screen on his bedroom window and sat six or seven feet above the ground on the sill, those pants and socks dangling.  I remember looking up at him from the front lawn; he was sad. He was being rejected, by me.

And I was smug. For the first time, I was bolstered by the affection of a thoughtful friend. I was Tina Turner at the end of What's Love Got to Do With It. And I hurt Ryan's feelings with that newfound confidence. We decided to go play in the forest nearby. It was spring and there was water everywhere, big, swampy pools of it. We played and jumped and balanced each other on fallen tree trunks. I remember all of this under a weird John Hughes haze. Breakup sex for 12 year old boys.

Soon we'd go to different high schools and lose touch altogether. Sometimes I'd encourage my Mom to drive through our subdivision another way, so we could pass his house. I'd casually crane my neck to peer into that bedroom window, or into the yard where he and his brother might be playing in the pool. I never stopped wishing he'd been nicer to me.

I'm not suggesting we vote based on the heartbreak of little boys, but if we spent a few minutes thinking on the feelings we felt when they were pure and unfettered, we might begin to see things differently. We might be able to clear away the chattels of adulthood and think feel clearly with our hearts.

A Republican would call me sentimental at best, and a namby-pamby, anti-American, bleeding heart-Socialist at worst. But, that's okay, I've been called more terrible things by my very best friends.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The third batch of rules. Again, some of these are new for me - Like resolutions, I've got some new goals. #25 is big, and in a couple of very specific instances, I already feel the impact of gossip-removal. Try it for yourself. (And then try again when you inevitably fall of the wagon.)

21. CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT FOCUSED ON SUCCESS. Be it at work, home, or in your artistic endeavours, always play to the strengths of those around you. Remind yourself that supporting others won't diminish your own success. Create an environment where each person can be at their best.

22. IF YOU'RE VOTING FOR ROMNEY, go ahead and unfollow me, too.


24. BE PUNCTUAL. There's no excuse for lateness. It means you didn't want to stop doing whatever it was you were doing when you knew you should stop doing it in order to leave the house on time. Selfish + Rude.

25. NO MORE GOSSIP. It rarely serves to do more than make you feel better or more-accomplished than the ones you're slagging. Comparison is death. If somebody is shitty enough to talk shit about, they're probably toxic, so just stop thinking about them altogether or ask yourself why they affect you so deeply.



28. ELIMINATE SARCASM FROM YOUR CLOSEST RELATIONSHIPS. Iyanla Vanzant says: "Don't drag around your baggage and your ugliness and call it 'personality'". So stuff like sarcasm isn't really funny and isn't "just part of who you are". It's almost always steeped in anger, self-loathing, defensiveness or deflection. (Removing sarcasm from my relationship with Jeff has been the best thing we've ever done. Seriously.)

29. ADVANCED POLITENESS: If you crack into a pack of gum upon descent in an airplane, share a piece with the stranger next to you. Why not? It's courteous.

30. Know how to make ONE REALLY GREAT MEAL. 

Success: Expedited Delivery. Illustration by Sandi Falconer.

Part I
Part II

Sunday, October 28, 2012

As the weather heads toward cooler days, so do my drinking habits. When I'm in Toronto I start to lean away from margaritas and bright, cucumber-laden gin and mix in more seasonally-appropriate drinks like red wine and Old Fashioneds. 

Maker's Mark is a good choice where bourbon is concerned. With a smooth sweetness, it's perfect for cocktails. (If I'm drinking it on the rocks, I go for Woodford Reserve.)


There are as many Old Fashioned variations as there are bourbons on the market. Sugar options, soda vs. still, cherries and other garnishes - But I know how I like it.

The Old Fashioned

In an Old Fashioned glass (typically a squat tumbler or rocks glass; often cut crystal or somehow fancy) place a sugar cube. Hit it with 3 or 4 dashes of bitters. Allow the cube to absorb for a second before crushing it down with a muddler. Toss your sliver of orange rind on top and muddle some more, squeezing out the oils. Add 3 ounces of bourbon and a splash of still water. Drop in a fancy ice ball (Check these out! The more surface area, the longer your ice will last. And they're a great conversation starter.) Stir and garnish with a sour cherry. (I soak mine in cognac for a while first.)

The Mint Julep

3oz. bourbon
2 tablespoons mint syrup
Garnish with a mint leaf

Mint Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Several sprigs of mint.

Boil sugar and water for 5 minutes. Pour over the mint in a bowl, gently crushing the mint with the back of a spoon. Chill, covered, for 8 to 10 hours. Strain, discarding the mint.

Juleps need crushed ice! Fill a glass or julep cup. Add syrup and bourbon and stir gently. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

(Image from the internet.)

Tequila: The Classic Margarita
Gin: Tara O'Brady's Plum Ginger Gimlet

Friday, October 26, 2012

My friend, and reformed blogger, Ryan Marshall recently hatched a secret plan to get me to Orlando for a visit with his pregnant wife Cole and their family. He was in the mood to surprise her, and I think it worked. 

So this weekend I'll be hanging with the Marshalls in sunny Florida. He's threatened to take me to a swampy spring for canoeing and alligator watching. Very little of this entices me, but I look forward to a few days with the greatest family in America. 

And click below for a walk down memory lane, some Florida posts from days gone by.

(Photo taken in January 2012.)

Summer Style (February 20, 2011)
Tropical America (May 24, 2011)
Courting the Marshalls (January 21, 2012)
Notes on Tessa (January 26, 2012)
Instagrammar School: As Travelogue (September 23, 2012)

And I hear it's raining cats and dogs in Toronto, so a playlist from last year to soothe you.
November Rain (November 29, 2012)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO I POSTED THIS PLAYLIST. They still hold up, so I thought they deserved another spin. I'm hoping we see new albums soon from people like Neko Case and Dan Auerbach; for now, these will have to do. They're perfect for this time of year, when you want to hunker down and hide, but also run away.

How We Exit 
  1. Heartbroken, In Disrepair - Dan Auerbach 
  2. We're in a Thunderstorm - Gentleman Reg 
  3. Free - Cat Power 
  4. Pearl's Dream - Bat for Lashes 
  5. White Tooth Man - Iron and Wine 
  6. I'm an Animal - Neko Case 
  7. Icarus - White Hinterland 
  8. Relief Next to Me - Tegan & Sara 
  9. Time of My Life - Patrick Wolf 
10. How We Exit - Gentleman Reg
11. Beleriand - The Middle East 
12. Swanlights - Antony & The Johnsons 
13. We Put a Pearl in the Ground - St. Vincent 
14. Landmines - St. Vincent 
15. The Owl and the Tanager - Sufjan Stevens 
16. Gossip in the Grain - Ray LaMontagne 
17. Honestly? - American Football 
18. Tryin' My Best - Jenny Lewis 
19. I Was Young When I Left Home - Antony and Bryan Desser 
20. Goin' Home - Dan Auerbach


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

JUST BECAUSE IT'S OFFICIALLY FALL DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO SHY AWAY FROM CERTAIN FOODS. Your pantry can pack a punch year-round, if you do it right. Every kitchen should be stocked with go-to's which can be pulled together on a moment's notice and turned into a great meal, regardless of the weather. Sometimes all you need is a 30-second pit stop at your local produce stand and dinner can be on the table in minutes! 

Ash Denton, friend and brilliant food stylist, has this to say about a well-stocked pantry:

1. TETRA PAKS OF CHICKEN STOCK - I always have plenty on-hand to make risotto, flavour regular rice, or make a quick soup. 

2. CANNED TOMATOES - Either whole plum or stewed. You can use these to make a quick pasta sauce or chili. 

3. GOOD SEA SALT, like Maldon. 

4. THE INGREDIENTS TO MAKE SALAD DRESSING: dijon, olive oil, a jar of minced garlic.

5. FRESH CITRUS - Not really a pantry item, but a fresh squeeze of lemon juice or zest is a a great addition to salads, fish, dips, and dressings. Just get in the habit of keeping lemons and limes on-hand. 

6. CANNED CHICK PEAS OR WHITE KIDNEY BEANS. Pureed in a food processor with garlic, lemon and oil, they make a perfect dip. Added to curries or chilis. 

7. AND I ALWAYS KEEP A WELL-STOCKED BAKING CUPBOARD: Flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, are always good for that spontaneous batch of cookies or a loaf of some kind.

And so, grab a can of San Marzano tomatoes (arguably the best tomatoes available, in-season or not) and a hunk of fresh ricotta, a bunch of basil and some pasta. Ash made ours from scratch (instructions and can be found on The Bay's website) but dried works too!

Photography by me for The Hudson's Bay Company. More images there. Food Styling by Ashley Denton.

Monday, October 22, 2012

THIS SERIES HAS MADE ME (EVEN MORE) AWARE OF HOW MANY SPECIAL PEOPLE I AM LUCKY TO CALL FRIEND. Kris Knight is an artist. He's a sweet and funny man, who, at first glance, seems intense and too talented to approach. But he's easy and has the face of an 80s-era cartoon superboy. We met through the small town that is Toronto more than a decade ago and have been friends since. He too grew up in the rural heartland of Ontario, so we share much in common; we understand each other on a deep, formative level.

Kris has been a successful working artist since he finished school in 2003; he's never had a full-time job. Since the age of 13 he worked in restaurants, and only two years after graduating from OCAD, Kris secured an art dealer and began to rely on painting to support himself. "I always had to work hard," he says, "I was raised to be a workaholic. My family went back and forth between small towns and working farms. All my aunts and uncles and grandparents are all farmers. I had chores after school, and, after I turned 12, anything besides socks and underwear was up to me to buy." 

He has been propelled by this expectation. "I'm not a Boho," he insists, "I don't like the idea of smoking and drinking and living in a dump. The whole romantic artist doesn't exist in this time. If you want to make a business out of it you have to be a business person. I can hold contracts, I have three art dealers, I can spend half a day doing admin."

"Creative people need to be restrained. If you give artists too much freedom, it stops working. If I didn't have deadlines, I don't know," he trails off, "I think I'd be a bit of a mess. I'd have lots of self-doubt, and I wouldn't see things through to the end. I need people telling me things are due. And that's a kind of restraint. I don't have endless time to make a show. I have to be very thoughtful about what turns into a painting." 

He knows that self-reliance and the freedom to work for himself is a privilege. "Being able to do this all day long, and the fear of someone taking it away - I mean me, by messing it up to the point that I'd have to go work for someone else - is the motivation. This is a gift. In Canada, you can start off really strong as an emerging artist, but it's really hard to maintain a mid-career. And lots of artists plummet then. So for me it's fear of losing this; I work really hard. I would hate not doing this every day."

Art has been part of Kris' life since a very young age. "When my parents figured out I could colour within the lines, I got crayons. All my gifts were paints and pencil crayons. Paper. I started painting in high school. Always people. I do one landscape per show, now, but I treat it as a person. A thing, a place, something that means something to me. Memory-based. And it has to work with the figures." His parents were always supportive, but he says, as the years have passed, that his art work has meant a lot to them. "I was a quiet kid. A quiet, angry teenager. I think my parents learn more about me through my artwork." 

He always starts with a narrative idea, rather than a visual direction. He says he's not a sketchbook kinda guy. "Every image is mapped-out in my head and lives there until I start to put it down." He'll write down titles, and the images in his mind are linked to those words. "I don't forget them." He also points out his desk, covered in brown paper, with notes scrawled all over it, "Song lyrics, notes, words that relate to the work." 

Right now he's preparing for a show in Miami, where his paintings will stand alongside ceramic pieces by another artist. "I like softer stuff right now. Pastels. Porcelain. These will be about gay guys who are afraid of sex, in terms of disease. They'll have a very virginal look. So I'm experimenting with a fleeting, fragile thing lately." 

Only a couple days into painting the new series, Kris says it'll only take a week or two to be surrounded by new work. "I'll do a layer on one painting, put it down, grab another and do layer. I work in a circle, several paintings at a time. Rather than toil at something. Without that deadline, I'd work on one thing for three months. Overwork it."

We talk about the china-faced boy on the wall now, part of the porcelain series. "That's two hours' work." To my untrained eye, it's beautiful and near-complete, though he says it's a tiny fraction of the way there; layer upon layer to go. I suggest a time-lapse video, showing his progress, "But then you'd see the temper tantrum in the middle," he laughs, "Like, 'Where'd the painting go?'" 

I'm surprised to hear that he lashes out at his work, sometimes even tearing something into a garbage-can full of pieces. He says he started out even angrier, "At the beginning of my career, everything was very dark, tonally. Angry. I was a little ball of gay rage. But if I have a bad day and rip up a bunch of paintings, the next day I'm always really eager to start over again. Everything is released." 

And while, in the early days, his palette and emotions were "angry", he says the work now just seems vulnerable, "I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back I see that my early paintings were really sad. Not so much angry." 

While he's learned a lot, he says there are still things to remember. "I don't have a lot of work on my walls at home. But I do have a commission that's gone wrong. I keep it as a warning, a reminder to be less polite and get payment up-front." He is, after all, a business man

His commitment has made him an extremely successful emerging artist, though now he's made the shift into a new part of his career: the Mid-Career Artist. I ask what's next, "Established. And then dead." But he says his sweet spot would be cult status. "You know when you love someone so much you don't want to share their work with anyone? I'd be happy there." The worst place, though: "Forgotten," his eyes seem to glass over, "No artist wants that."

(Pirate illustration done by Kris several years ago for a series. It sits proudly in my home. Kris shot on location in his studio on October 18, 2012.)


Kris said he's been listening to L.A. musician Chelsea Wolfe lately. I dug her up and have to agree - She's neat. Spooky and moody and perfect for the end of October. Here's one from her and a handful of songs inspiring him now.


1. Oh Yeah - Bat for Lashes
2. Something Good - Alt J
3. Kill My Blues - Corin Tucker Band 
4. The Blue Dress - Wild Nothing
5. Flatlands - Chelsea Wolfe

Check out Kris' work.

Friday, October 19, 2012

TYPICALLY I REACH FOR HEADPHONES WHEN I'M LISTENING TO MUSIC, particularly if it's my first run at something. I want to hear it and get close. Aside from dissecting lyrics and vocals, I'm also digging into the production and other less-pronounced elements with nearly as much fervour. 

Twice lately, though, I've found myself unplugging and looking to blast music through speakers, out into a room. Unencumbered. Newcomer Jessie Ware (as featured on a couple of recent playlists) demands some space and a good subwoofer; her music feels visceral and live. Her debut, Devotion, hasn't left regular rotation in weeks. Only recently has something usurped her place, and it too asks to be blasted. 

Bat for Lashes' new album, The Haunted Man, is bassy and waily and actually sounds better with a bit of distance from the ear. Where you typically hear all the production tidbits better through headphones, I find myself zoning-in on new things each time I let it loose in my living room. A forest-for-the-trees scenario if not given a bit of geography. 

She opens with "Lilies", a huge song that feels potently joyful. She sings "I begged the thunderbolts to strike and mark me as alive," and I can only imagine how big it'll be on tour. Forty-five seconds in we get stompy synth and drum machines, begging for big speakers and bass beyond standard-issue headphones. When she bellows "Thank God I'm alive!", it's a borderline religious experience. The track is reminiscent of Björk in her hayday. (Remember when her music was listenable?) 

On a few tracks, things almost get a bit muddy, but it feels purposeful, the tones telling something of the subject matter. On "Oh Yeah" drum tracks, synth and swirly pianos, plus her voice, guitar riffs, group vocals and a boatload of reverb verge on uncomfortable through headphones, requiring a palette-cleansing follow up on "Laura". Throughout the album she employs a lot of instruments which lack clear edges: Timpani and soaring French horns, pan flutes played in ultra-low registers, cellos so far down they're almost undetectable, instead eliciting just a feeling. So many of the tonal choices are amorphous in a way, cloudy and indistinct. 

Two thirds of the way through, on the title track, she hits us with a snare drum (as if she knew our ears would need something to attach to) before "The Haunted Man" opens-up into more layers than The Rachel Cut, circa 1996. It's music that feels laboured and organised, thought-out, yet when listened to loosely, feels organic and happenstance. It isn't fussy and lacks the ornamental qualities of her earlier work. Less costuming, if you know what I mean.

The new album is missing a "Daniel", something as instantly kicky and poppy. Where Two Suns could work as gym music, The Haunted Man feels more personal and moodier, less polished and produced. It sounds way live and, at times, rough in its delivery. With this, her third terrific album, I think she's officially here to stay.

1. Lilies
2. Sleep Alone
3. Sad Eyes
4. Daniel
5. Moon and Moon