Andrew Bird
Are You Serious
Best Andrew Bird album since Mysterious Production of Eggs. And I mean it this time. I just wish he'd play his goddamn violin more.
Pussys Dead
Autolux is hard. They've released so little music for how long they've been around, disappearing for extended periods of time between albums (a child who is conceived on the night of an Autolux album release is reading books and doing math by the time their next one comes out). And now, with all this time to write and record and create and prepare, they go and choose Boots to produce their new one. Boots and I have a funny relationship. Which is to say: I do not like Boots. This doesn't come from his work with Beyonce or Run the Jewels, but from the one performance I saw of him in concert. It was weird. He was weird. He tried way too hard. Kinda embarrassing. Luckily, he doesn't ruin Autolux here. Autolux ruins Autolux. Sort of. I don't know. A lot of Carla Azar's bombastic drumming is compressed and enveloped and looped, generally declawed. But other than that Boots generally stays in the background. My big issue with it is that (much like their last album), the melodies just aren't as strong, and the vocal performances seem strained and passionless. And in an odd twist, they decided to include their old—and fantastic—song "Future Perfect", which did not appear on the album Future Perfect, and here has been retitled "Change My Head." And it's not as fantastic. It's good. Probably the best song on the album. But it just doesn't have the same spark as the original. Anyhow, it's okay, because Autolux will come back in another 6–7 years and really impress me for once.
Lindsey Buckingham
Law and Order
Do you like Tusk? Do you? Of course you do. But do you ever burn through the second disc of Tusk for the fourth time in an afternoon and think to youself, "Boy, I wish Tusk had a third disc, and I wish it was even freakier than the first two." Law and Order, you guys. It's Lindsey Buckingham's first solo album, and is for all intents and purposes the child of Tusk—which was, for those same intents and purposes, itself a Lindsey Buckingham album. This thing is good you guys. And it's the kind of good that should really hold more of a place in the esteem of music dudes. There should be entire local mini-scenes devoted to its essence. Pitchfork writers should be referencing it in reviews like everybody knows what they're talking about. It should be a thing. Even just for a year. Let's make 2016 the year of Law and Order you guys. It's a treat.
Kendrick Lamar
untitled unmastered
There’s this whole contingent of music writers who refuse to accept Kendrick Lamar as our lord and savior. I understand them, but I don’t understand them. And it’s not an uninformed bunch. It’s hip hop dudes (albeit, probably like, white academic hip hop dudes who listened to Wu Tang growing up and wrote their doctorate theses on “Violence and Jewish Identity in Mobb Deep’s The Infamous”). They seemingly know their stuff? And yet there’s this uncomfortable unwillingness to give Kendrick Lamar his due. I almost feel like they want to fight off dudes like, well, me, who come in as outsiders who don’t really follow their world much, don’t care which mixtape Young Thug just released, have no idea who Lil Boosie is, and suddenly proclaim Kendrick (oh, sorry… “K Dot”) the contemporary master of the art form. I get it. We’re annoying. Kind of how I felt back when the Arcade Fire became a Thing. I had to be like, “Okay, calm down everybody” and then check out for a couple album cycles. But still—what’s their problem? The dude is great. He has things to say. He has a multitude of ways to say those things. His voice is a multi-instrument ensemble. He’s extraordinarily thoughtful, but still funny and surprising. His taste in collaborators and beats and arrangements is impeccable. What’s not to like? He’s the best. And this untitled unmastered proves it; it’s a collection of “unfinished” recordings not good enough to make his last album, and it’s possibly the best hip hop album of the year. I’m sorry hip hop music writer dudes. It’s real.
I wasn't prepared to like a Phil Collins era Genesis album, but this is a Phil Collins era Genesis album I like. Particularly the song "Keep it Dark," which I hadn't heard before, but sounds like a Sumday era Grandaddy song in the best possible way. It's great. The whole album is pretty great. Not in a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway way (way), but in a 'Peter Gabriel hasn't been gone long enough for this band to forget how great they can be' kind of way.
Mount Moriah
How to Dance
This isn't as good as Mount Moriah's last album, but that's okay.
Sun Kil Moon
Ghosts of the Great Highway
Other than my endless reverence and appreciation for Benji, and the occasional song I'd hear on KEXP, my relationship with Sun Kil Moon has been more or less nonexistent. I've always put them in the same box as groups like Songs:Ohia and Tindersticks and Great Lake Swimmers—thoroughly tasteful and ruminative and adult, but just too shrouded for me to even feel like I was allowed into their club. But having been introduced via unbelievably-good Benji, I've now finally picked up a second, perhaps more traditional Sun Kil Moon record, Ghosts of the Great Highway, and I'm glad I did. Yes, it's tasteful and ruminative and adult, but in the best way possible. Honestly beautiful music. It's not fun, it's not even very exciting, but it's quality. Maybe it's time now to give Mark Eitzel another shot.

If you like alt country and you like indie rock and you like your guitars just the right amount of dirty and you like guys who sound like Colin Meloy without trying to sound like Colin Meloy, and maybe you prefer A.M. to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and yet you prefer Perfect From Now On to Hollywood Town Hall, Pinegrove might be the band for you. Although admittedly after the first two (great) tracks on here, I sorta zone out. Still, they're good and I'm glad they're doing what they're doing.
Ches Smith
The Bell
Ches Smith was Xiu Xiu's drummer but really more of a percussionist because he always played a bunch of crazy bells and cymbals and stuff but now he does jazz music and I was excited to hear this record because he has good taste and it features a good pianist and violinist but it's aimless and dissonant and boring and I guess I should've known. Moving on.
Slow R&B for Zellers Locations Canada-wide
This is a weird one. But a good one. The conceit: CFCF, a Quebecois electronic artist (whose Radiance and Submission made my best-of list last year), back in 2010 made this single-track mix and tossed it up online. The title is obviously tongue-and-cheek, but only kinda. No, it wasn't made to be played at Zellers stores in Canada, but it is slow R&B. It's basically a mix of five or six corny R&B tracks from the 80s and 90s, slowed down to about half speed, stretched and smoothed out and looow, highlighting every Spanish guitar embellishment, every raunchy bass snap, turning every dreamy chime wash into synthy aberration, every wet snare into a swimming pool, with only minor (but successfully surprising!) electronic embellishments and cuts, all mixed into one 30-minute long slow jam that's the smoothest damn thing you've ever heard. Weird but wonderful.
Moon Tooth
When the promise of a new band that sounds like Shudder to Think and Converge and the Mars Volta and Alien Ant Farm (I swear that's a good thing) and Mastodon and Jeff Buckley and Dillenger Escape Plan and Meshuggah and Queens of the Stone age is so exciting that you become temporarily unconscious and buy their record online within 3 minutes of skimming through their Bandcamp page, only to wake up an hour later feeling like a little fat kid who ate too many strawberries, wondering how anyone could ever let this happen.

Baroness would be one of the best metal bands in the world if they didn't have one of the worst metal vocalists in the world. Here you've got an absolutely tight, melodic, heavy-but-groovy Mastodon-but-poppier crew killing it in in every direction, and then suddenly you get this voice that sounds like somebody at Bud Light's ad agency searched for "hard rock + male + vocals + royalty free" at a stock music site and picked the first thing that popped up. It's a miracle their instrumental chops are good enough that I can even stand to listen to these guys.
Eleanor Friedberger
New View
I'm going to hold off on actually reviewing this new Eleanor Friedberger record until the snow melts. Because like her last album, this is sunny-day music. It's rolled-up-sleeves-and-mowing-the-lawn music. As far as I can tell, it's good. But as long as I'm slipping on icy sidewalks and wrapped in a scarf, it's impossible to tell how good.
Jet Plane and Oxbow
I left a snotty little mini review (or preview, rather) a few weeks ago about this new Shearwater album, based on its first single, which has a distractingly synthy vibe to it. You know my feelings on this whole synth trend. So I was being preemptively frustrated with it, to try to stave off the actual frustration that might come with the actual album. Good news is: I was wrong! It's not a trendy annoying synth-heavy cash-in! Bad news: If anything, it's Shearwater-by-the-numbers, which isn't actually bad, because Shearwater's numbers are usually impeccable. But considering the incredible heights their last few albums get to, Jet Plane and Oxbow just doesn't have enough surprises. I hate to say it, but I think maybe they should've made a synth record! Fail spectacularly rather than succeed timidly.
David Bowie
Look, David Bowie died, and all the thoughts and feelings I had about Blackstar before are no longer valid after. So I won't bother. But I just copy-paste here some thoughts I had about him last week:

You know what's amazing about David Bowie, when you think about it... he made it to age 69, year 2016, fully intact. No embarrassing public freakouts, no shameful interview quotes, no (truly) regretful artistic choices, no cheap money grab projects, no laughable appearances in TV commercials, no offensive political stances, no boring duet or reinterpret-the-hits or Christmas albums, nobody wishing he would just retire, nobody lamenting how good he 'used to be', nothing but 69 years of absolute integrity. Bob Dylan won't be able to say that, Paul McCartney won't be able to say that, Stevie Wonder won't be able to say that, Mick Jagger won't be able to say that, Paul Simon won't be able to say that, and everyone else who could've tried died young anyway. Bowie somehow managed to do it. He won.

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.
05.03.2016 - by Steve
Icehouse - South Minneapolis
Pork nachos
I already wrote about Icehouse on here a couple years ago, but I just went back and had a much more enjoyable experience. Not a ton to add really, but they have a nice late night happy hour, and the seating in the bar area is pretty chill. The pork nachos were much better than the jazz trio in the main room.
03.25.2016 - by Steve
United Noodle - South Minneapolis
Japanese curry
United Noodle! The myth is real! A well stocked Asian supermarket hidden in the industrial warehouse glut of the Seward/Riverside no man's land, whose deli serves up some of the most highly regarded noodles in the city, and staffed entirely by first-generation Asian—wait, no, it's a bunch of hipster college kids. That was unexpected. But still, this place is pretty close to matching its reputation. Maybe not quite, but close. I can only speak for the Japanese curry (tasty but a little on the tame side; it got boring after 4 or 5 bites, and the breaded pork was on the dry side) and the bbq pork ramen (of which the broth was a bit bitter for my taste, but the pork itself was soooo good. Absolutely perfect), but it's right up there with any of the cooler, hipper, expensiver, louder shops that have opened up in recent years. I'd love to go back, but they close so early that it's not going to be easy.
03.25.2016 - by Steve
Melt Shop - Bloomington
Fried chicken melt
This is part of the Mall of America's new collection of "good" food court places, a mysterious entity that clearly is somehow a chain, but who even knows who owns it or runs it or created it or where their money is coming from or if there are other locations somewhere else or if the food is actually prepared in house or if it's the same Aramark crap as everything else, or what. Melt Shop. Like, "Malt Shop," but with melt sandwiches, got it? Cuz they have malts, too. So anyway I got a "buttermilk fried chicken" melt. It was on sourdough bread and had some red cabbage slaw and pepperjack cheese and "Melt Sauce" on it. The chicken was actually quite good; they didn't fry it to order, but they had some prepped and ready to go, and it actually had good breading on it, rather than being the crappy frozen chicken I expected. Everything else, the sauce and the slaw, was just As-Expected. Not special, but good enough. So it was good. Fine. My biggest problem was price; for a mall food court place (even a "good" one), the addition of tots and a drink to the sandwich would've put it up over $15. Which, I don't know. I get it—the sign says "artisanal". But it's still a mall food court.
03.25.2016 - by Steve
Il Foro - Downtown Minneapolis
Steak, meatballs, vodka sauce pasta
This doesn't really count as a real Food review, because I was just at Il Foro for an event that had a buffet-style meal. So it's not like I sat down with a menu and chose an entree and saw the prices and this and that. But given that, I can say I was quite happy with the food I ate, and surprised at its very traditional Italian appeal. This isn't, like, a modern Italian kitchen or some nonsense (see: Monello), it was meatballs in a hearty red sauce, some sort of elbowed hollow rigatoni-like pasta in a creamy vodka sauce, and a fairly traditional—but absolutely perfectly prepared—steak at a carving station, with horseradish. I guess it would be really expensive if I was actually paying for it, but I wasn't. Really though, nobody's going to this place for the food. It's all about the interior, which is a lovingly restored art deco era interior. It's fancy. But like, legit fancy. Very fun. I'll never eat there again.
03.03.2016 - by Steve
Taco Cat - South Minneapolis
Have you seen these hilarious "Damn Daniel" videos? They're hilarious, and everyone's seen them. Have you seen them? Where the guy says "Damn Daniel" to the other guy? Shoes maybe? Have you eaten Taco Cat?
02.21.2016 - by Steve
Surly Brewing Co. - St. Paul
Brisket sandwich
I don't drink beer. But I do eat brisket sandwiches. And this was a good (if slightly overpriced) brisket sandwich. And even better (but still overpriced) corn bread. Apparently people like their beer, too. But you know what people don't like? Communal seating. Nobody.

02.21.2016 - by Steve
Domo - Northeast Minneapolis
Kimchi ramen, sausage bahn mi
Domo isn't bad—its kimchi ramen is particularly tasty, certainly more exciting than Ramen Kazama—but it's not exactly remarkable. If I hadn't left my credit card there by accident, I may have forgotten about the place by the following morning. And as long as the Rabbit Hole still exists, I'll probably just go ahead and forget about Domo by the time I publish this post.
02.11.2016 - by Steve
Red Lantern - St. Paul
Sushi, Japanese sausages
Aged tuna nigiri: great. Red snapper nigiri: great. Flounder and shiso nigiri: great. Kampachi nigiri: great. Urchin nigiri: great. Scraped tuna nigiri: great. Winter roll: great. Prices: high. Waitstaff: obnoxious. Japanese sausage: tastes like lil smokies. Bartender's Asian-person impression: regretful. TV behind the bar: Pokemon. Location: the old Fuji Ya space in St. Paul. Original location: White Bear Lake (really!). Ramen: TBD. Red Lantern: sure!
02.04.2016 - by Steve
Lowry Hill Meats - Uptown Minneapolis
Roast beef sandwich, salami sandwich
Lowry Hill Meats wants you to know it is a premium meat purveyor for those with a sophisticated modern urban meat purveying sensibility, and will sophisticatedly purvey said meats for anyone willing to pay a premium for the purveying of sophisticated meats. They will even put those meats into a sandwich for you, in between two pieces of locally baked european bread. You will like the sandwich, because what's not to like? But will you love the sandwich? Can anyone truly love a sandwich?

(Yes. The answer is yes. Just go to Clancey's and get a roast beef sandwich. You will love it. Lowry Hill Meats, meanwhile, you will like just fine. But that's all.)

01.29.2016 - by Steve
Saint Dinette - St. Paul
Bologna sandwich, latkes
The Saint Dinette, see, isn't actually a dinette. It's irony. Because it's kinda fancy, see. Right there, top of the menu, you can't even pronounce that stuff! But then a few items below those, here's one you can pronounce, despite its tricky spelling—a bologna sandwich! Well what the heck! That's not fancy! I ate those as a kid! I'll have one, please! This'll probably be the best bologna sandwich you've ever had, because it's on the menu at a place that uses "dinette" ironically. Except it's kinda salty and super greasy and desperately needs some sort of mustard.

This second paragraph is about the potato latkes, which were delicious, and don't deserve to be in that previous snark-filled diatribe, even if they were no better than the delicious latkes you'd get at Cecil's, a place which is much closer to actually being a "dinette." Really, the bologna didn't deserve it either. It was fine. The Saint Dinette is fine.

01.29.2016 - by Steve
Mama's Pizza - St. Paul
Pizza, pasta
Mama's Pizza, you St. Paul residents have had me believe, is the city's hidden gem of a neighborhood pizza place. For years I have have heard your whispers and seen your Yelp stars. I even tried going this summer and found it to be packed to the brim and lined up out the door, so respected was its reputation. Well I've now eaten at Mama's Pizza, St. Paul residents—and I am not impressed. Its pizza is Red's Savoy with a more crackery crust. Its pasta is tame and dull even by Marcello's / Donatello's / Michaelangelo's standards. Like, I mean, it's fine though. If you're in the neighborhood, it's probably great to have around. Particularly the pizza. But don't worry if you're not. You have your own place nearby, I'm sure.
01.17.2016 - by Steve
Victor's 1959 Cafe - South Minneapolis
Somehow I've never actually managed to order a Cubano at Victor's until this weekend. Every time I've been there previously was for their (equally-if-not-more famous) breakfast. In fact I didn't even realize that their lunch menu was available during the hours I was there, so the Cubano never even crossed my mind. And I'm a man who loves Cubanos. They're a perfect sandwich, and I imagined a Cuban restaurant would make a good one. Guess what? They do.
01.17.2016 - by Steve
Burger Burger - Bloomington
There's a Shake Shack opening up at the Mall of America soon. This is big news, I guess, because Shake Shack is a burger chain of downright mythic proportions. Of course, once it opens up here, it will no longer be mythic, and all the stories of people standing in line at the single Shake Shack in a park in New York's Flatiron District will be a distant memory, and it will just be Shake Shacks and Five Guys and Chik Fil A's and (eventually) In And Outs everywhere we look. On the opposite side of the mall, a 180 degree walk around the third floor, you'll find Burger Burger, a "local" burger shop that desperately, desperately, desperately wants to be Shake Shack. They've built their entire brand around fooling people from outside NYC into thinking they are—black and green and white, little iconographic burger and shake illustrations, promises of hand-pattied burgers and fresh fries, a two-word, repeated first-consonant name. It's sad. And when the real Shake Shack opens up across the mall, it will be even sadder. Because despite their desperation, Burger Burger is good. Really. There is nothing wrong with their burger, or their fries. It's tasty and not-too-greasy. A quality burger! They should be proud! But they're probably going to be sued into oblivion.
12.31.2015 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2015 - South Minneapolis
A List
For reasons (and circumstances [and because]), I once again didn't really hit up most of the hot new restaurants in the city this year. Because while we may live in a great food city, it's really only a great food city if you make at least $100k a year. For the rest of us who can't afford to just pop in to your new Parisian champagne bar or farm-to-table North Loop small plate warehouse space, it's mostly just a matter of making due with old favorites before they all close for good. So take this list with a grain of salt. Maybe next year.

1. Homemade porchetta
2. Chimborazo - Arroz chaufa
3. Naf Naf Grill - Chicken shawarma
4. Sonora Grill - Chicken and Chorizo Khinkali
5. The Happy Gnome - Sausage poutine
6. Pico de Gallo - Tacos
7. Al's Beef - Italian beef sandwich
8. Blue Door - Cheese curds
9. Monello - Braised rabbit
10. Bump's - Hot beef commercial