Here’s hoping this weekend will be a safer one with no more wildfires in southern or central California…and while we’re wishing, let’s make it a miraculously, unexpectedly rainy one.

Shot from our neighborhood as the smoke from the Sand fire swept over Los Angeles this past weekend. Thoughts and best possible wishes to those fighting and dealing directly with both that fire and the Soberness fire near beautiful, magical Big Sur.

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At the start of this month, we ventured out to try a newly opened Burmese restaurant on Sunset in Silver Lake—Daw Yee Myanmar, an import from the San Gabriel Valley touted by Eater LA as “one of SGV’s best Burmese restaurants.”

We’d never had true Burmese cuisine, but there was a joint that opened up in DC right after we moved away from that fine city years back and we’d always been curious. Myanmar’s geography means that it borrows from Chinese, Indian, and Thai cooking + cultures, so how could some combination of all of those cuisines not rule?

We reached out to the cafe via Facebook to see how vegan-friendly they might be and they got back to us right away, explaining that many items were vegan as were and more could easily be made vegan.

When we visited (and as of writing, seemingly), the cafe was still fine-tuning the permanent menu, calling it a soft opening still, so we’re not clear on what may or may not be long-term dishes, but most of what we got seems pretty mainstay.

A must are the Garlic Noodles (pictured above), which are easily made vegan and feature wheat noodles tossed in garlic oil with chickpea ‘tofu,’ which seems to be polenta-like (soy-free) tofu rods. If you’re into spice (and additional awesomeness), ask for their housemade chili sauce, which is superb and goes very well with the noodles.

Then the Tea Leaf Salad, which is like nothing we’ve had before and highly craveable (and vegan as-is). It features truly distinctive and defining fermented tea leaves, shredded cabbage, steamed corn, diced tomatoes, crunchy fried lentils, fried butter bean, fried garlic, roasted peanuts, and toasted sesame. The taste and texture of this dish make it another we’d highly recommend getting.

The Burmese Vegetable Curry is good and vegan as-is, but basically a fairly tame, well-spiced stew—nothing too spicy—with okra, potatoes, lentils, daikon, and curry leaves. And the chickpea ‘tofu’ + Burmese samosas filled with onions and masala potatoes are totally solid openers if  you’re looking for them.

Daw Yee—at 2831 Sunset in Silver Lake—is open 5-11PM Monday through Friday, closed Tuesdays, open 11AM-11PM Saturday, and 11AM-10PM Sunday. And, most importantly, they have cute neon paper animal heads on the wall. As Eater points out, no liquor license, but next door at Same Same street thai (also vegan-friendly), they’ve got a solid beer + wine list.

Daw Yee Myanmar facade photo via Eater.

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We’re admittedly late to the Japanese metal idol scene, so—embarrassing as it may be—we must confess, we’d never heard of the J-pop-metal mashup BABYMETAL until this month. Which is 100% our loss.

The Japanese group—led by 17-to-18-year-old Suzuka Nakamoto (“Su-metal”), Yui Mizuno (“Yuimetal”), and Moa Kikuchi (“Moametal”) and backed by the ghostly Kami band— began back in 2010 and kind of sounds exactly as you might expect; which is to say, SOUL-MURDERINGLY-AWESOME-MOTHER-FUCKER-kawaii✌️peace sign✌️

See below, the official video for their song “KARATE”, off of this April’s METAL RESISTANCE.

Also, can someone get these young women a new keyboard with a working caps lock, please?

Writing about music is tough. It’s such a personal thing and such an equivocal, murky thing—something people have many times rightly said is more felt than heard. So it’s inherent that words would fail with such a subject, but it’s gotta be done, especially if you write about it to promote bands and their work. Doing so often means you have to resort to more broadly recognizable classifications—larger, more known genres like rock, folk, or electronic; as you drill down, more obscure ones like Krautrock, glitch, black metal, twee…the list goes on. Two such genres that usually turn us off right off the bat are garage rock and garage-psych—they’re so over-used these days they mean almost nothing. And, what’s more, when they do mean something, they tend to describe bands we’re just usually not into. But recently, a new album by New York band The Mystery Lights was sent over to us with just those descriptors to it, and, when we gave it a listen, we totally dug it. High energy and, though it clearly looks back to 60s psych and the like, still doing something fun and new, not just noise in the musical Zeitgeist like so many other bands described with those tags.

Leading up to their Saturday show at the Bootleg here in Los Angeles, we got a chance to talk with Mystery Lights’ frontman Mike Brandon (upper row, far right) about the band’s influences, their move from southern California to New York, and how that city’s shaping their sound.

raven + crow studio: So, we’re just hearing of you guys, but how long has The Mystery Lights been a band and how’d you start?

Mike Brandon: L.A. and I have been playing together for about 15 years now. We started the band with our buddy Joe Della-Mora when we were in high school. We all had the same taste, so we decided to make some music together. We locked ourselves in an auto mechanic shop on Commission Street where we wrote tons of songs and recorded lots demos. After about two years of hiding, the band finally came out and introduced ourselves to the world. We played small shows here and there in California, not taking it too seriously. Shortly after, the band came to a halt. Joe got busy taking over his father’s business and our drummer at the time (Stephen Miller) got busy with school. After a long break, we decided to make the move to New York City and resurrect the band there, where we met the members that make up the current line-up today.

I have to be honest—theses days, if I get promos sent to me with ‘garage rock’ or ‘garage-psych’ or the like in their descriptions, I usually tune out pretty quickly. But what you guys are doing taps into something a little deeper, I feel like. Did you all set out to create a sound that looked back to older influences.

Honestly, we would most likely tune out promos attached to those two over-saturated genres as well. “Garage Rock” and “Garage Psych” has become something totally different today than when we started playing 15 years ago. We never started the band with the mentality of “Let’s start a Garage Rock Psych band!”, we just said let’s start a band and see what comes out. Looking back on older influences, we definitely listened to a lot of fuzz-driven 60’s garage rock comps like Uptight Tonight, Nuggets, Back from the Gravethe list goes on. We were and still are big fans of Billy Childish, The Kinks, Richard Hell, Television, Velvet Underground, Blind Willie Mctell, Sun Ra, The Yardbirds, Them—these were all heavy inspirations of ours growing up. We listened to everything though really—blues, jazz, hip hop, soul, punk, psych, rock n roll, country, etc. etc. Our influences know no bounds, and we don’t like to limit ourselves to categories like “garage rock” or “garage psych”.

Man, I’d say almost all of my 60s psych comes from the Nuggets boxed set. That thing is so solid. What originally brought you all to New York?

I was born and raised in Salinas, California, and L.A. (Luis Alfonso Solano) was born in Mexico, raised in Aptos, CA. We had some people out in New York encouraging us to move out there, so one day L.A. and I just decided to make the move. A more diverse, fast-paced city seemed appealing to us, with not much really happening for us in California at the time. I made the move first. After getting a bit comfortable, L.A. decided to come visit and ended up staying permanently. We then decided to resurrect the band.

Not to simplify, but you guys sound so New York. We moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn a few years back, so let us live vicariously for a sec—tell us what you all love about New York.

Well, we all grew up listening to a lot of music that came out of New York such as The Velvet Underground, Television, Richard Hell, New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, Blondie, Thelonious Monk, Silver Apples, Suicide, etc. A very inspirational time and place for music that gave birth to all these gems that each played a heavy influence on us. New York is much more fast-paced and diverse than what were used to, which we seem to thrive on. However, it gets to be a bit much at times. We do miss CA. More relaxed, small towns, where you know everyone’s name and can take a nice long drive on a road with no other vehicles around. We’ll move back someday soon, I’m sure.

I feel like a lot of my old haunts have closed down since moving out here—what are some good bars + venues you all like to play at or hang out at these days?

Our friend and producer (and Wick co-founder) Wayne Gordon co-owns a bar we like to hang out at called Our Wicked Lady. Has a nice rooftop where they have shows and play movies. Also Skinny Dennis, The Levee, KGB Bar, etc. We like to hang in bars that aren’t overpopulated. More relaxed, nice cold beer, good conversation. Love the $5 beer + shot deal with a good jukebox. For venues, I really dig seeing shows/playing at Shea Stadium a lot. Also Baby’s All Right has a nice powerful sound system I really dig, with a hectic backroom that’s always fun. We don’t really hang out at bar’s and venues honestly, unless we are playing or there is a specific occasion. We prefer drinking in our basement, making music, or going upstate to camp out at the boss Rhino’s.

Man. KGB Bar has to be one hundred years old—glad it’s still around and kicking. How was it recording the debut album and being in the studio as a full band?

Was great! We recorded the album live in one week to a 2 inch all-analog tape machine, which had a nice pure warm sound that we loved. The process captured the energy of the live show, which we never seemed to be able to do in the past when recording ourselves.

Did you all get a lot of support from you label, Wick/Daptone?

The Daptone crew are great to work with—they are very supportive of all their artists. They definitely made certain things possible for us.

Good to hear that. Can you talk briefly about the cover art (right)—who did it and what’s going on there?

The art was done by Kevin from our band. It draws from Wallace Berman’s verifax collages as well as the Stax ‘finger snap’ logo. It aims to reference the tradition of a lot of soul record covers (including Daptone’s previous releases) that typically deal with simple, ‘iconic’ images. There’s something uncanny about the hand though, and hopefully unsettling. The center collage portrays a world of images drawn from lyrics in the album.

No, it’s nice, and totally a little unsettling. Then what’s the name about, The Mystery Lights? Where does that come from?

The name just came to L.A. years ago. He took out this sheet of paper with the name “THE MYSTERY LIGHTS” written across it. It was perfect. The name rolled off the tongue and looked appealing on the paper he was holding out, so we made it our own.

Awesome. Thanks for talking, Mike. We’re looking forward to seeing you guys at the Bootleg when you come through town.

See you soon!

Photo by Emily Quirk. You can pick up The Mystery Lights’ debut full-length via iTunes or order a physical copy via their label, Wick. You can also stream it via Spotify.

A very inspirational time and place for music that gave birth to all these gems that each played a heavy influence on us.
Mike Brandon on moving the band from California to New York and its influence on their sound.

I have no idea where we got this book—likely from my mother’s extensive collection of old books I peruse through every time we visit her.

Though the illustrations for this are totally uncredited (and seem to be from various artists if the style of them is any indication), the cover and many of the page headers are truly beautiful and inspiring.

Originally published in 1885 and penned by Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) the content of the writing itself for this may not have aged so well. Take a look at his poem “Foreign Children” to see what I mean (you can click on that image to see a larger version).

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A Child's Garden of Verses is a collection of poetry for children about darkness and solitude by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Unit 120 is the self-proclaimed culinary incubator of Eggslut‘s Alvin Cailan, located in the Far East Plaza in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. With Alvin’s vegan-friendly, market-vegetable-driven Filipino regular Amboy, we’ve unsuccessfully been attempting to stop by for a while now. And I’d personally planned a visit Tuesday for Keep‘s 10 year anniversary party, but was effectively land-locked by the aforementioned neighborhood brush fire.

But then, this morning, scrolling through my emails, I saw one from Eater LA titled ‘Fried Orange Chicken Sandwiches Are a Thing Now’ with this photo featured.

Maybe you already know this about me, but I love Chinese food. I love Sandwiches. I love delicious chicken-like substances that are animal-free. So, hope in my vegan heart, I clicked through.

Turns out, the fried orange chicken sandwiches in question indeed came from new residents at Unit 120, Golden Boys—chefs Hunter Pritchett and Adam Midkiff, both former sous chefs at Son of a Gun. Grasping at straws, I briefly mentioned via Instagram that they should totally offer a vegan version of the sandwich, and, an hour later, they replied with just that—the tea smoked orange cauliflower sandwich.

Backing up, Golden Boys currently exists—usually—as a Thursday night pop-up culinary residence, serving coursed family-style dinners embracing a fun, healthy, and transparent approach to Chinese Food in Los Angeles. The menu’s farmers market-driven and, as Hunter assured me today, totally vegan-izable given some heads up. Check out their Unit 120 page for more details.

Tonight, though, the Golden Boys opted for a more casual, window-centric sandwich night, featuring both the sandwich menu. And I must say, the vegan cauliflower version was fucking spectacular. Pictured a tender, smokey, charred cauliflower steak coated in a wonderful, sweet-but-not-cloying orange sauce, and then topped with spicy, crispy sichuan tiger slaw and smashed cucumbers, all sandwiched between two grilled, crispy-soft potato buns.

The chicken/cauliflower sandwich was supposedly just running tonight as a special, but Hunter assured me you’d be able to order it as an add on with the the regular Thursday night menus going forward. Menu and details all via their 120 page; check them out on Facebook to stay keyed in to their adventures to come.

PS—they also sell cool shirts for $20.

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We love Chinatown and cannot wait to help it continue to grow by bringing a farmer’s market based, dynamic, and modern ‘Chinese Restaurant’ with a unique taste of place into such a dynamic neighborhood
Hunter Pritchett of Golden Boys

Over the weekend, through a fortuitous combination of a sneezing fit and too much Pokemon Go, I once again smashed my damn iPhone.

So, yesterday, off to our our local Apple store I went, which happens to be located at The Grove. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Grove is a high-end, oft-joked-about outdoor mall in Los Angeles that I actually think is totally awesome. Hyper-consumerism is gross and all that jazz, granted, but I still have a soft spot for malls, most likely derived from my mall-crawling early teenage years (full disclosure—though I’m dubious of this ‘fact’ in hindsight, I was, so I was told at the time, the first male employee of the mall accessories store Claire’s Boutique).

Plus The Grove has a Disney-esque animated fountain, a relatively pointless but charming trolley you can ride from one end of the mall to the other, and painfully friendly staff at every turn. And the place is adjacent to Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market and all its food vendors.

So, in short, not a bad place to spend an hour while they replace the glass display on your iPhone in my humble opinion. First stop—Fritzi’s for their most excellent sous vide vegan carrot dog on the pretzel bun.

But then, in a sudden shock, I realized I didn’t have my phone with me; thus no way to take a picture to visually sing the accolades of said most excellent sous vide vegan carrot dog on social media; thus no way to check my work email, personal email, and other work email; thus no way research and re-remember how to dungeon master for the next night’s long-awaited Dungeons and Dragons game; thus no way to play the aforementioned affronting Pokemon Go and “catch them all!”

After shock quickly panged into a mild dismay, I somewhat morosely ordered my most excellent sous vide vegan carrot dog (with vegan chili, grilled onions, and grilled peppers—they really are good),  and took my seat. Then, I breathed deep, took a look around, and realized it was totally fucking awesome not to have my phone. I sat, and instead of falling into a black hole of work and clicking and liking and commenting and read tiny, tiny words, I thought. About whatever, really. About how great it was that I had the freedom and flexibility to enjoy a very lovely day in a very lovely place. I explored my mind and fell into that old, all-too-neglected black hole. I zoned out. I noticed all the interesting people walking around. I slowly ate my most excellent sous vide vegan carrot dog full of rapt enjoyment, right away, without trying to find the best angle and light for the thing.

We’ve done our fair share of deliberate unplugging, and opting in and out of things in life is a constant source of conversation for us, but nothing beats totally not even having the option to opt in.

So I wandered around The Grove for a bit more, perusing some stores, making note of some books at the giant chain bookstore that I could purchase at one of our city’s many fine small bookstores, and asking some strangers for the time every now and then (all of whom looked at me like I was a crazy person—who doesn’t have a phone with a clock on it‽). I then wandered blithely and cheerfully back over to the Apple store roughly an hour later, happy to check the chore off my list of things to do but somewhat reluctant to willfully chain myself back to the rest of the world.

The kindly Apple store Genius guy handed me my phone…at which point I realized I had roughly one thousand messages that had come through in that hour, chief among them, ones that read something along the lines of “HOLY FUCK DUDE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD’S ON FIRE ARE YOU OKAY”‽

With Katie back east for the week, and me out re-finding my phone-less self, that left our adorable dog Owen at home alone in what, by all immediate accounts, was a vast inferno. Clearly freaked out, I quickly got to texting our neighbor…who calmly…and somehow cooly (this guy makes even the most mundane task seem cool somehow; DJs, man) that there was not only one fire but TWO in the ‘hood—a giant mansion was blazing up at the same time as a 15 acre brush fire that was happily both one ridge line away and well-under control at that point.

Which is when I realized maybe technology’s not all that bad after all. I even got a handy and impressive electronic notice on my all-too-recently estranged iPhone after rushing home that the brush fire was out and evacuees were free to return to their homes. While simultaneously texting a friend, ordering a Lyft, and firing up Pokemon Go.

Maybe next time, life-changing epiphany. Maybe next time.

I sat, and instead of falling into a black hole of work and clicking and liking and commenting and read tiny, tiny words, I thought.

A new entry in our up until now unformed must-read short books list—the updated, illustrated version of Food Rules from food guru Michael Pollan.

I, for one, recoil by nature when I feel like someone’s telling me what to do, so I was hesitant to read anything presented as rules for eating. “Who are you to tell me what to do? Why do you know better than me or anyone else?” That kinda thing.

But after Katie read the book and loved it, and after getting through the brief introduction that presents these more as suggestions based more on cultural wisdom and traditions and the reasons behind than faddish science, I gave the short volume a try. Honestly, it’s changed how we think about food and, thus, how we cook and eat. Obviously, being longtime vegans, we already thought about food a lot. And me being someone who loves to cook at home from scratch, we were already doing pretty well in my opinion. But this book helped us really even more thoroughly examine our relationship with food in a really healthy way. And it’s readable in a single sit, which is always nice.

Highly recommended for foodies and just people who eat food. Which is all of us, last I checked.

Rule 15: Eat Food Made from Ingredients That You Can Picture in Their Raw State or Growing in Nature

Longtime friend + collaborator David Goldman recently debuted a compelling new project he’s dubbed The Birth Lottery.

The project was born from another, earlier documentary photo project he did on migrant sugarcane workers (more on that in a 2014 interview we did with him) that got him thinking about what it means to have more or less stacked against you from the start in life. As he admits, whether or not one is born with privilege or hindrances is somewhat open to interpretation, but few would deny that many of us are born with an advantage over others.

As he puts it personally: “There is no question that I won #thebirthlottery. I am the son of middle class parents born in Toronto, Canada. I didn’t get everything I wanted but I was never in need of anything. As a student, I was not the best, but when I found photography, I worked hard to ‘make it.’ I still work hard. In my travels for work, I’ve met people that have worked way harder than I have yet they seem destined to struggle with barriers beyond my comprehension. I have also met those who have not really had to work too hard for anything and seem destined to succeed in spite of themselves.”

His new ongoing photo project works to examine that concept, telling stories with image and words of individuals working to change the results of their birth lottery.

Visit #thebirthlottery web page to find out more about the project and David’s work.

Photo by David Goldman.

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