08.29.2016
Frank Ocean
Blond
Channel Orange was a instant classic, and it's hard to find anybody who really cares about this stuff that would disagree. Instant. Like, it took no time to hook you. The songs were immediate, memorable, and they all had a hook and a conceit and a direction, and they were equal parts fun and thoughtful. Blond, here, is as far as I have gathered, its total opposite. It's thoughtful, yes. But it's slow. And quiet. And contemplative. And a bit concrete. It's hard to delineate one song from the next after listening. So much guitar and so few drums! So I can't really tell how I feel about it right now. Frank is still at the heart of it though, and there's no doubt that he's a talented—brilliant, really—writer, and a capable enough performer to translate his writing precisely as he intends. Still, as of today, if I want to introduce somebody to Frank Ocean, I'm giving them Channel Orange, not Blond. This time next year, who knows.
08.21.2016
Nels Cline
Lovers
Further proof that Nels Cline is the best guitar player in the world (a stance which I am not capable of defending, but I'll go ahead and continue to believe it), here is Lovers, a two disc set of American jazz love song standards, dotted with the occasional bit of avant garde noise, covers of 70s New York art weirdos, and one Sonic Youth song for good measure, recorded with a full ensemble and chamber orchestra, and performed and arranged with absolute sincerity and care. It all has a bit of a Gil Evans quality, and Nels' guitar playing comes off a bit like Jim Hall, with plenty of Cline-y freakouts and mega-vibrato in places. This guy. He really does it all. He makes these dense, dissonant avant-jazz records, then turns around and performs impeccable lead guitar with Willie Nelson, then goes and makes a years salary touring with Wilco, where he is able to make noise and play impeccably melodic leads. And now suddenly he's Django f-ing Reinhardt. He can seriously do it all, and unlike most people who claim they can do it all, he actually does.
08.17.2016
Aimee Mann
I'm With Stupid
I'm officially slotting this into the #2 spot on the Aimee Mann Discography Rankings* (behind Bachelor No. 2, duh). It's good, and I feel like I always ignore it when choosing which Aimee Mann album to listen to** for the evening.

* This does not count the Magnolia soundtrack, which would be neck and neck with Bachelor, because it's not really actually a real actual album, really.

** By which I mean "listen to half of," because as much as I love Aimee Mann, I can generally only can stand about 6–7 songs before I need a break. This of course doesn't count for the Magnolia soundtrack, which not really actually a real actual album, really.

08.04.2016
The Avalanches
Wildflower
I can't necessarily defend Wildflower, other than to say "It's very good to listen to." I hear some whinging and grumbling online about how dated it sounds, how mashup culture has passed us by and has long since mashed itself to death, how "Frankie Sinatra" sounds like a Gorillaz song. I can't argue with any of these points. But I can say that the Avalanches have that thing that makes it work. Even the fucking Biz Markie song about chewing is a pleasure to hear. It's probably not actually magic, but it's magic.
08.04.2016
Maxwell
blackSUMMERS'night
A list of trilogies which all began and ended in the time it took Maxwell to release just this second chapter of his black/summers/night trilogy:

Twilight
The Hunger Games
The Hobbit
Captain America
The Hangover
The Expendables
Atlas Shrugged
Vorstadtkrokodile
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I wish I could say it was worth the wait, but it's pretty much a bore. Can't wait for part three around my 40th birthday.

08.01.2016
Ian William Craig
Centres
This album can be fairly summed up as "if Fennesz was a classically trained vocalist (or at least James Blake)," landing somewhere in between avant-garde classical and avant-garde electronic, with washes of tone and distortion floating along with cooing voices and hints of melody. It's pretty nice to listen to, although much of the tonal distortion he uses feels a little easy, like he just amped up the gain on a channel or two, or maybe just put a mic really close to an amp or something, compared to Fennesz, whose own methods for distorting and droning feel like they're shaped and built into personal and proprietary formulas, which no ProTools effect can duplicate. So in that sense, headphone listening on this record diminishes its returns when you listen too close.

But there's a twist! (Spoiler alert!)

After soldiering through the bulk of the album, as nice as it might be, just when you're feeling worn out by the haze and fuzz, this guy turns around and picks up an acoustic guitar, and plays one of the most beautiful songs you've heard all year. It's essentially a coda, a straight, undistorted version of the first track of the record, and the sheer craftsmanship and virtuosity of it knocked me on my butt. And more than that, it made me want to scream at my speakers, "Ian William Craig, why are you hiding this? Why are you covering this shit in distortion and muck?" If this guy just sat down with his guitar and a piano, he could record one of the best singer-songwriter albums of the year, I'm sure of it. But for now, I guess all we get is art.

07.27.2016
Hammers of Misfortune
Dead Revolution
Look, you're not going to like Hammers of Misfortune. I know each and every one of you that reads this site, and I know where to draw the line. I mean just look at that cover art up there. Look at it. Does that do anything for you? Of course it doesn't. So I'm not going to bother. It's good though.
07.20.2016
Michael Kiwanuka
Love and Hate
Dear recording artist,

Please stop letting Danger Mouse produce your records.

Love,
Steve


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07.13.2016
Astronoid
Air
The word on Astronoid is that they're helping spearhead a new era of extreme metal, bringing major chorded, clean vocal'd melody and genre-agnostic experimentation to the traditionally genre-dogmatic world of black metal. That's the word at least. But what the word fails to mention is that Astronoid more often than not comes off sounding like these guys graduated high school and discovered Deafheaven and decided to just do what they're doing, except the kid on the left, who got super into Dragonforce after beating Guitar Hero in his dorm. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Like, if you told me they were a christian band I'd believe you. But I guess they'd be a pretty good one, all things considered.
06.23.2016
Trust Fund
We have always lived in The Harolds
One day last summer, I went from having never heard of Trust Fund, to putting their Seems Unfair album near the top of my Best Of The Year list, and putting the band near the top of my Super Excited To Hear What They Do Next list. Awesome album, really smart power pop, fun and charming, well done, funny videos. They're good. Well What They Do Next didn't take long, because they just released this new, uh, album? Is it an album? What is an album anymore? It was only $1.49 on Bandcamp, and I can't help but feel that it's basically a series of demo recordings that would've been better off kept behind the scenes in preparation for their next real album, half song ideas, and half instrumental arrangement experiments (some woodwinds here, some mellotron there, some connective drones yonder). But I can't complain, because $1.49. The songs are nice though, and they're seriously on a roll in terms of knocking out sweet smart melodies—and I'm currently listening it to about the 5th time since last night. Still, just because it's so easy here in 2016 to release an "album," doesn't mean that you always should.
06.22.2016
Laura Mvula
The Dreaming Room
A couple years ago, Laura Mvula released this really beautiful album of carefully and lovingly orchestrated art pop, that was mostly too polite and adult to be given much consideration by anyone outside of NPR and the quiet few of us who love adult and polite lovingly orchestrated art pop. So now here's her follow up, and it's mostly a continuation of that vein, but with a notable addition of some electronic 'stuff,' and bigger booming Florence drums here and there. The songs are generally good, but it all has a slight feeling that somebody at the record company wanted to try a little bit harder to score a big hit this time around. Luckily, they didn't try that hard. So it's still a lovely polite adult art pop record. Just not as flawless as the last one.
06.17.2016
Mammal Hands
Floa
The jazz quartet Courageous Endeavors is easily my favorite local 'band' these days. Maybe you've read about them on this music slash food blog. What I like about them, aside from their obvious technical talent and taste, is that they are a jazz combo who doesn't care about sounding like a jazz combo. They write songs that are seemingly inspired as much by post-rock and Amnesiac era Radiohead as by Kind of Blue—and while nobody would mistake their music for anything other than jazz, there's no reliance on swinging hi-hats and walking basslines, nor on tuneless squawks or anything "acid." They just make music. They do it well. Mammal Hands, a quartet from Norwich England, strikes this same sweet spot in my ears. There's piano and upright bass and saxophone and drums, and they are playing jazz, but they don't care what that means. What they do care about is music—melody and harmony and rhythm. Nothing is trying to break or distort or upset. They're good. I like it. But they don't quite reach Courageous Endeavors levels; they have a tendency to fall into Steve Reich-y, Phillip Glass-y arpeggio patterns, and you could probably point to a handful of European ECM artists of the 70s and 80s who they take inspiration from. But still, they make really lovely music that's a pleasure to listen to, and is everything I need until Courageous Endeavors finally releases a second damn album.
06.13.2016
Leapling
Suspended Animation
Here's some praise that sounds faint, but I assure you is not: This is a totally solid indie rock record.

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06.08.2016
Moon Tooth
Chromoparagon
I posted about this album earlier, but things have changed. It's great. So great. Basically, take everything I said in my first review about it sounding like Shudder to Think and Converge and Mastodon and fucking Incubus and Alien Ant Farm all at the same time, but then stop reading at the point where I say it's overkill. It's not. It's perfectkill. Super heavy, super proggy, super melodic, and most interesting of all for a 21st century metal album: It's colorful. Joyful. Fun. It has heart and it will gouge out yours. It's so hard to find metal that's fun without being somehow ironic or satirical, but this does it. It's even harder to find metal that's somehow indebted to nu-metal without being awful, but this does it. It's great!

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08.17.2016 - by Steve
The Wing Joint - Blaine
Wings and ribs
You know what's a really underrated side item that I really like, every time I get it? Even though I never even consider ordering it by choice? That nobody ever really serves anymore because it's not cool or photogenic or bespoke? That is so dumb it's almost embarrassing to even type? Texas toast. So good. So satisfying. So hard to screw up. Even a place like the Wing Joint, who makes just-good-enough wings and somehow-not-terrible ribs in a strip mall in Blaine, can toss a couple slabs of Texas toast down on the tray with your overly salty dry-rub wings and clearly-just-grilled-after-baking-earlier-in-the-day ribs, and you eat them fast enough that you wish there was a third. Then when you get up to leave, you don't even care that your wings were no better than what you could've found at any sports bar from Blaine to Coon Rapids despite the place being called "The Wing Joint," because, hot damn, that was some good Texas toast.

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08.17.2016 - by Steve
World Street Kitchen - Uptown Minneapolis
Beef shawarma tacos
I'd been to World Street Kitchen a number of times before, and always liked it, but beyond the awesome aloo tikki chaat side dish (which is no longer on their menu, whaaa), I was never floored. Until these beef shawarma tacos came along. And now consider me floored.
08.04.2016 - by Steve
Taco Libre - West St. Paul
Tacos
Not gonna lie, I went to Taco Libre because it looked cool. Coolness isn't necessarily always a draw for me, in fact it's often a repellant, but this is West St. Paul we're talking about, so I took what I could get. Even then, it was really only West St. Paul cool; if it was in Northeast or on Lyndale or something, it would be a little laughable. Mexican wrestling masks, poster-style menu graphics, the promise of "street tacos." Everything you'd guess. But so, the tacos: not terribly cool. They were all okay, but nothing you couldn't get at every other taco shop, and probably another half dozen taco shops on Robert Street alone. I have a suspicion, actually, that it's operated by the Las Teresitas people, as the meat selection (and execution) are very similar, and they have a salsa bar that kinda disappoints in the exact same ways as Teresitas. If I did research for this blog, I'd probably Google it quick to see if that's true, but nah.
07.19.2016 - by Steve
Marino's Deli - Northeast Minneapolis
Lasagna and meatball
Sometimes on this dumb site I'll start a post with, "I've been waiting 3 whole years to go to this place," or "I've been meaning to try this place for most of the last decade." Well check this shit out: 15 years I've waited to go to Marino's Deli. 15 years. Since back in early college when I had a summer job that would take me down Johnson, I'd drive by it and fantasize about what must be inside. Don't ask me how so much time passed before I finally took the leap today, I don't know. Just never was around that neighborhood hungry I guess. But I went. And it's charming and great in every way a neighborhood Italian deli should be. Good red sauce. Good meatballs. Good prices. Low key friendly service. It's exactly the kind of place a neighborhood needs. Problem is, like—look, I love dives. We need dives. We need to support our dives. Marino's doesn't need to spend money on an interior design firm or new reclaimed wood flooring or anything. But they could really stand to just take a weekend and tidy up a bit. It's a mess. Still on the right side of charming, but just barely. You should go there though.
07.05.2016 - by Steve
Bibuta - Food Truck
Pork sushi burrito
A new (to me) food truck at the Minnesota United game caught my eye this weekend. Or rather, the lack of a line compared to the Anchor truck next to it caught my eye. It's called Bibuta, and it specialized in sushi burritos and OMG are we in Manhattan or something?? And while you might have an idea of what a sushi burrito is, just stop for a second, and stop thinking so hard about it. It's simpler than that. It's really, a giant sushi roll. There's no tortilla, just a big sheet of nori, with sushi-grade rice and filling rolled inside of it, all held in by a heroic piece of foil. The idea of eating this much actual sushi didn't quite appeal to me, so I got the pork belly burrito, while Paul got the beef bulgogi, and we went splitsies on them. And I have to say: They were both very good. I preferred the pork, even if the beef tasted a little more like sushi, but that's almost beside the point. Really it's just a tasty pile of sushi-like food to fill your gullet. And despite the absence of a nice hot sauce (which would've been made it a near perfect food truck item), it succeeds tremendously.
07.05.2016 - by Steve
Hi Lo Diner - South Minneapolis
Reuben, pie
Okay, Hi Lo fully won me over. It didn't take much, I was impressed on my very first trip. But I've been back there 3 times now, and I'm continually impressed. All the worries I had about it being this or that (or the other) are basically moot. Like, yeah, it's a little on the yup side, but not by much, but none of that matters, because all the food I've had has been fantastic. This time it was the reuben. It's not a 100% traditional one—it's served on some sort of toasted roll rather than rye bread, and the sauce in which it's downright slathered has a bit more bite than your standard Russian dressing—but it is profoundly satisfying. And then they toss in the classic crinkle-cut diner fries, which unlike a crinkle-cut standard bearer like Cecil's, have a rich golden brown fry to them, something we've grown used to on hand-cut pub fries, but is really a rarity on crinkle cuts. It's great! And then we get to the pie. You guys. They've done it.
07.05.2016 - by Steve
Giordano's - Uptown Minneapolis
Chicago style deep dish pizza
Best thing about Giordano's pizza is how there's so fucking much of it.
06.13.2016 - by Steve
The French Hen Cafe - St. Paul
Banh mi benedict
A banh mi benedict! It's like banh mi! But in benedict form! Are you slapping your forehead as much as I am? It's so obvious. Honestly this is one of the best breakfasts I've had in a long time—pretty much perfect. And this one meal alone (and a couple bites of their shockingly dense yet somehow still moist pancakes) has vaulted the French Hen up towards the top of the Twin Cities breakfast joint hierarchy as far as I'm concerned.
06.08.2016 - by Steve
Hello Pizza - Edina
Sausage pizza, meatball sandwich
A pizza by the slice joint that actually serves good pizza and quality meatball sandwiches? Hello! Stupid. That was so stupid. I'm not even going to finish this review. Look, Hello Pizza is good but not great, but that's all it needs to be, and we need more places like it. Wait, is it owned by the Lola people? I think it is, but I'm not going to look it up right now, because I don't take food blogging very seriously. Also there was a manager/owner who was back in the kitchen the whole time, and he was big-dogging the employees and making me a little uncomfortable. Just let them get high and make some pizzas, man!
06.08.2016 - by Steve
A Baker's Wife - South Minneapolis
Chocolate donut
Baker's Wife started using darker chocolate on their donuts! Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

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06.08.2016 - by Steve
Umami Bowl - Apple Valley
Hunan chicken
I go to Apple Valley sometimes. It's the worst. But they have a Half Price Books, and an express bus line to get me there, so that's where I'm at. This place called Umami Bowl popped up a while ago in one of the town's countless strip malls, and it looked kinda interesting maybe? At least more interesting than China Dragon Wok Star Garden #1 or whatever, and their menu was at least promising enough to contain masaman curry and drunken noodles, rather than just, like, "Thai coconut chicken" or something like that. So I finally gave it a shot, and it's—kinda interesting maybe? I was really in the mood for Chinese, so I just got their "Hottie Hunan" chicken, which, yeah, does sound pretty lame. But it was good enough. Better than Leann Chins or Panda Express, better than Noodles, probably better than Super World China Buffet 79. But service-wise, it's more interesting. They're really trying to do a Noodles type thing, with a somewhat limited menu, counter order service, and some modern-y Ikea-y furnishings, and circa-2006 indie rock playing on the speakers. But most interesting of all, they have a noodle dish on their menu that has Thai curry and cheddar and mozzarella cheese. I'm kind of terrified, but very curious. Just wasn't curious enough to try it on my first trip. If there's a second, I'll tell you how that goes down.
05.27.2016 - by Steve
Revival - South Minneapolis
Roasted pork, fried chicken, fixins
Here's a funny thing: Revival actually lives up to the hype! Wow! Hey! But. Except for the chicken, which is very good, but not so much better than your average mom n pop fried chicken that it's worth the two hour waits and parade of Minnesota Monthly superlatives. But but. Everything else, from the mac'n'cheese to the rice and beans to the cheesy grits and collared greens (holy shit that rhymes!), and the bread & butter pickles and the barbecue sauces, and especially the roast pork, is perfection. Top to bottom. Just absolutely delicious. I'll (of course) argue that a place serving this food shouldn't be as fancy (read: exclusive) of a sit-down place as it is—it should really be a counter-service 'meat and three'—but I don't care enough to belabor that argument, and I'm an idiot anyway. All that matters is the food is awesome and now that it's been open for a year maybe you can actually get a table and try it soon.
05.16.2016 - by Steve
Terzo Porchetteria - South Minneapolis
Porchetta
I feel like Terzo's Porchettaria is flying under the radar, as much as a place can fly under the radar in this town these days. Deal is: You know Broder's Pasta Bar, and you probably know Broder's Cucina across the street. Well down the block is Terzo, a newer, smaller, lower profile cafe from the Broder family. I'm sure it's good. But more importantly, on the side of Terzo, by the patio, is a small window and a pig-shaped sign announcing the Porchettaria, where during the day you can get take-out porchetta sandwiches that have been a staple on Terzo's bar menu since day one. This is a wonderful thing. This town needs more of it.
05.16.2016 - by Steve
Dong Yang - New Brighton
Korean short ribs
Dong Yang is still the best Korean restaurant in the city, so you'd assume they have the best bbq short ribs in the city. And, well, yes, they do.
05.03.2016 - by Steve
Hi Lo Diner - South Minneapolis
Hot beef commercial
I was very skeptical of this Hi Lo Diner. Restaurant investors buy up an old timey historic diner car in Pennsylvania, move it to East Lake Street, create a menu of "American diner food with a modern twist", charge $20 for a lamb patty melt and $25 for lobster scrambled eggs and $18 for local honey walnut waffles, and people will go crazy for it and you'll never actually get a table and it's just going to be annoying. But! I was wrong! Mostly! Kind of! I mean, it's not cheap per say, but it's not terrible. And the menu really is fairly "normal" diner food for the most part. Most exciting of all is they serve the southern-Minnesota staple Hot Beef Commercial! See my review of Bump's for my history with the beef commercial. And it's pretty darn good! It's "modern" in that the beef is short rib rather than just regular old chuck roast or whatever, and it's plated kinda fancy, and drizzled with a horseradish aioli, but otherwise it's pretty standard. Only problem is it could've used more gravy. It should be swimming in gravy. And oddly enough, despite its urbane and implied quality, I almost sorta kinda enjoyed Bump's more trashy beef commercial more. Still, I do have to admit that Hi Lo is hitting the right notes in what they're doing. And best of all: Late night pie!. Stay tuned for that.

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