Companionship, food, and music—they form a magical confluence of human pleasure. When those three elements come together in an inspired way, it’s a great argument for the beneficence of the universe and the value of being alive. Over the course of this and the next two columns, I will be dishing up a menu of musical and culinary suggestions that I believe will elevate your dinner parties far above the realm of the blasé.
First off, this week, might I suggest a midnight picnic beside a bottomless lake in the heart of a fairy-infested forest? For this one you will first need to pay a visit to the attic and track down your great grandmother’s hand-cranked portable gramophone and her tarnished silver candelabra, fitted with thirteen black wax candles.
Suggested track: “Only Skin,” by Joanna Newsom. Ms. Newsom is a classically trained harpist and composer, with a beguiling voice that is both child-like and uncanny. Like all her offerings, this nearly-seventeen-minute-long piece is utterly enchanting: musically lush and extravagant, with mysterious lyrics worthy of romantic poetry by William Blake or Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Suggested meal pairing: A picnic basket heaping with jam tarts, old world cheeses, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the potted meat of a swan drowned in honey. Optimally, this should be washed down by imbibing from flasks of absinthe or crystal goblets filled with mead that has been fermented in a French monastery from the nectar of only night-blooming flowers.
Twee vocals, ironic hipster observations, self-consciously lo-fi recording techniques: full confession here, I find most indie music to be absolutely execrable; every bit as formulaic as any 80s hair rock or 70s jazz fusion. (As much as I like the film Juno, its soundtrack spawned an awful lot of pale imitations.) I will, however, always make an exception, for The Decemberists, independent rock royalty from Portland, Oregon. Bombastic, theatrical, and surreal, their music explores a multitude of genres, from gothic neo-folk to progressive rock.
Suggested track: “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”. A wildly theatrical showstopper for the band’s live shows, this tune is an epic folk ballad; a timeless tale of bloody vengeance sought and wrought upon the high seas.
Suggested meal pairing: Weevil-infested whale filets, accompanied by great lashings of dark rum to be drunk out of battered copper tankards. Preferred location: the gloomy, lantern-lit dining room of a ghost ship adrift somewhere amidst the Bermuda Triangle.
And finally this week—
Suggested track: “Usurper of the Earth and Sea”. Some fine dinner party music works in a subtle, nuanced way by insinuating itself into the background of the evening and enhancing the evening’s flavours, conversation, and emotional tenor. This track, from Seven Seals and Seven Crowns, the latest album by the German death metal prodigies Sulphur Aeon, comes crashing into your synapses and the small, delicate bones of your inner ear like a fire-belching locomotive made of raw meat and jagged bone. I cannot think of a better way to obliterate those midwinter doldrums.
Suggested meal pairing: A wild boar roasted over a fire pit a thousand feet below the surface of the Earth inside the shaft of an abandoned goldmine. Bring a large group of friends, some barrels of Dunkel beer, and plenty of batteries for the flashlights. Let the festivities begin.
(Next week: some timely Valentine’s Day-themed suggestions for romantic repasts.)