The first time I tasted this chocolate, it tasted weird.
It’s Dick Taylor’s Black Fig; 72% Madagascan cacao with Black Mission figs from Northern California. Beans from Madagascar give chocolate an intense, rich-fruit flavour, like oranges and raisins, and the chaps at Dick Taylor have added their distinctive roasted aroma, so we’re already into interesting taste territory, but it’s the Black Fig inclusions that really define this as a top choc treat.
Textured, intense, sticky, figs are some of my favourite things. So, why does it taste weird when it sounds awesome? Simply because I thought it was a bar of plain. The figs were completely unexpected and their overwhelming presence was therefore weird. The exorbitant presence of something which does not belong – weird.
OK, so maybe I am stretching things somewhat. The weird, as defined by Mark Fisher in his excellent and sadly final book, The Weird & the Eerie (repeater books, 2017), ‘Brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled…’ and I would not for one minute suggest that figs cannot be reconciled with chocolate. Ask anyone from the Spanish Extremadura region. Here they grow a variety of fig called Pajarero. Small and sweet, it is the key ingredient of Rabitos Royale – stuffed with brandy and chocolate ganache and covered in dark chocolate. Incredible.
But the experience, even if not a full-on example of weird and certainly nothing to trouble Mark Fisher or even Mulder & Scully, did happen at an opportune moment and got me thinking. Armed with chocolate and coffee, I had just sat down to write about the split Aeronaut and Swamp Flower Rhyme LP released in July this year on Cruel Bones.
The thought was this; that the banjo is not an instrument readily associated with drone music. It’s inclusion in these tracks as more than just a gimmick is truly weird and provides a disquieting presence that lift these tracks above standard drone work-outs
I have no idea how it came to be, but the banjo is the common link in this split LP. Splits are, to use an apposite cliché, a game of two halves and it’s not uncommon to find only half the offering to be to one’s liking. But not in this case, and the idea of the banjo, even if it is used very differently by both artists, provides a great linking devise so you get a strong sense of unity of intent. Like a themed exhibition at a gallery where the curator has got it just right.
The Swamp Flower Rhyme side is one 22 minute track, Longing, which sustains, through rise and fall, an unsettled anxiety. The banjo brings the weird gradually and the result feels like gliding down a river whose banks are closely crowded with strangely silent vegetation, unable to control our passage lest in doing so we alert the hidden terrors in the undergrowth. Aguirre, Wrath of God. Apocalypse Now. But the refrain of the track’s final few minutes lets you know it’s too late. You are lost to the terror. The credits are rolling.
Turn it over.
The first of Aeronaut’s two tracks, American Gothic, kicks off with a repeated banjo refrain, very controlled, hypnotic in its weird, underneath which a huge static rises. While you may think you no longer hear it, that banjo retrain is there, tickling the edges of your mind, like an incantation summoning the weird, allowing it access. A beep here, drilling there, it’s trying to get through, to tell you something you probably won’t want to hear. Slowly voices coalesce, radio chatter upon radio chatter, unintelligible yet urgent and urging. It builds until, in the end, it’s all that’s left, it’s all you can hear, it’s all you’ll ever hear again. Weird wins.
Thankfully, Aeronaut’s other track, Epilogue, provides a sonic comedown, it re-orientates and restores. While American Gothic was claustrophobic, Epilogue opens out. Weirdness at bay. At least for a while.
Maybe it’s lazy stereotyping, but the banjo seems to instantly conjure off-the-beaten-track America with all that popular culture assumes that entails. Deliverance, Southern Comfort, True Detective. Talking of True Detective, despite the plaudits it garnered for the use of music, I wasn’t that happy with the actual soundtrack. It felt too generic, lacking a sense of place and a sense of the weird, both of which the detectives were trying hard to understand. It was at odds with what the filming and dialogue seemed to try very hard to invoke. Perhaps Longing would be a better choice. Certainly American Gothic would have made for an excellent end-credits.
Much like the lovely packaging on Dick Taylor’s range of chocolate bars, the album cover here is all part of the experience. Put together by the talented A Death Cinematic, it’s probably my favourite album cover of the year so far. Printed on what feels like the card reverse, it has a rough and tactile quality that is slightly unexpected on what is quite obviously a photograph. It’s appropriately weird to handle. But the image isn’t weird at all. It’s eerie. Back to Mark Fisher. “Eerie,” he says, “Is a failure of presence.” Or, “When there is nothing present when there should be.” It involves an element of speculation. What strange creature gave that howl in the forest at night? What spirit haunts those mist shrouded ruins? Or in this case, what terror lurks in this empty example of American rural vernacular? Add to this the coloured vinyl contained within, like water from a long abandoned tin bath, and you get something truly special and complementary to the music.
In summary, Dick Taylor’s Black Fig chocolate is NOT weird and that’s good.
Split by Aeronaut & Swamp Flower Rhyme IS weird. And eerie. And that’s good.
Get both and enjoy together.
 If you put something in your chocolate, such as coffee, it’s an ingredient. If you wrap (or more usually, press,) something in your prepared confection, typically nuts or fruit, then, in the hard-core chocolate world, it’s an inclusion. Apparently.
 Not that I’m adverse to drone work-outs. Some of my best friends are standard drone work-outs…..