07.22.2017
Sly and the Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin On

Holy shit this is a good record. I'm a little mad that I've never bothered with it before. It's basically the fundamental blueprint of all the best neo-soul and Dilla/Shadow/Kanye hip hop beats that came a couple decades later. It should be played at all parties. Mandatory.

07.17.2017
MIKE
May God Bless Your Hustle

MIKE is a teenager from Queens who I assume is named Mike, and he raps. I can't really pinpoint anything particular about his voice style, he doesn't have any particularly memorable lines to quote back to you, and nothing about his beats or hooks are hummable. But from the standpoint of artistry and honesty, May God Bless Your Hustle feels great. The beats, produced apparently mostly by MIKE and some character named Sixpress, land somewhere in the Madlib/Shadow sphere of rough, analog, introspective hip hop, without worrying too much about old school boom bap or modern day trap bullshit. The whole album just flows, with MIKE's vocals often pushed so high in the mix that his verses sound like late night audio confessionals rather than attempts at stardom. And even if his style isn't exactly flashy or unique, it works through pure honesty and thoughtfulness. Basically, this is a dude I want to root for over the next few years, hoping that he doesn't get caught up in the seemingly bottomless hip hop hype machine that turns every young Bandcamp and SoundCloud rapper into an overexposed sellout.

07.16.2017
Girlpool
Powerplant

Girlpool's first album was a surprise favorite of mine in 2105. It had this rough, tossed off vibe, sounding like two girls who decided to record an album together at the same time that they're just learning to play guitar, yet totally unafraid to just go for it, arranging their perfectly written songs to fit within the constraints of their limited chops, belting every melody in catchy 2-part harmonies, and not giving a damn that they don't know any drummers.

This new one, then, disappointed me at first. It sounds like a band. A band that knows what they're doing. With a quality set of distortion pedals and a drummer who probably teaches lessons on weekends. "And this is a bad thing?" Well, considering the charm of the first Girlpool album, yeah. The rough edges are generally gone, and their vocals have gone from joyous bellows to more generic breathy indie whispers. And yet. And yet it grew on me very quick. The songs and melodies are still fantastic, and their trademark 2-part harmonies are still everywhere. And the drummer kicks ass and it basically rocks. It was a quick turnaround from "Ugh, Girlpool just ruined their sound" to "Top ten of the year" in my book.


(1)
07.16.2017
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

I'm filing this under "Sufjan Stevens," because it feels like his album, but in reality, Planetarium is a collaboration between Sufjan, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner. That sounds like a perfect combination of collaborators, and an album where each song is about some different celestial object or idea sounds like a perfectly batshit dumb idea for Sufjan to absolutely pull off. And when you hit play, it works. It sounds like a beautiful surprise Sufjan album that basically came out of nowhere, and it's terribly exciting. But then it just keeps going, and nothing much happens. It doesn't build to anything great, no single song stands out from the others. It's just, sort of present. Like a lesserAge of Adz. Which sounds harsh, but I don't know if there's anything on here to even be harsh about. It just doesn't land.

07.16.2017
Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex sound like some beautiful combination of Rhye and Mazzy Star. And if that sounds good to you, I agree. Album-wise, there's not a whole lot different happening from track to track, but whatever, because [re-insert first sentence here].

06.03.2017
Elder
Reflections of a Floating World

I haven't finished listening to this new (fucking killer) Elder record yet, so I can't really form any real thoughts about it (except that it's fucking killer). I just love the album cover so much that I want it on the top of the page. So here it is. Pretty sweet, right?

06.03.2017
Nightlands
I Can Feel The Night Around Me

Remember a few posts down when I accidentally bought the Cameron Avery album thinking it was a different album by a different bass player of a different popular indie band? Well I knew you were wondering, and here it is! The actual album I meant to buy! Nightlands' I Can Feel The Night Around Me! It's pretty good. Lots of (dare I say?) Beach Boys-y harmonies, chill moody washes, just barely funky. It's good enough.

06.03.2017
The Catherine Wheel
Ferment

Back in late high school I decided I should like the Catherine Wheel. I didn't. Then I tried again in college, still no. Once more around the early-oughts, no dice. But recently I woke up in the middle of the night, and could just feel it. "It's time," the voice told me. "You totally like the Catherine Wheel now." So I picked up Ferment, and I do!

06.03.2017
Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

I've always had a hard time appreciating Father John Misty. Which is odd, because he seems to fit right in to the Harry Nilsson / Randy Newman / Benji Hughes singer songwriter continuum that I'm such a sucker for. But this new one finally tipped the scales for me, and I'm totally sold on this thing that he does. I don't know if I'm ever going to just take it out for fun and enjoyment to listen to all that much in the future; this is some very specific, disruptive, thesis-oriented stuff that doesn't necessarily play well at parties. But to sit and listen to Pure Comedy is like reading a good book, or watching a good movie. Glad I did it, who knows if I'll need to revisit it in the future.

04.21.2017
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers put out a new album, and look, it's not too great. It's good and competent like their last 3 or 4, but just doesn't have the highs of their best stuff. But more importantly, I finally managed to see them live! And even more importantly than that, I saw them live with Neko Case on the tour! Dan Bejar wasn't on this tour, but that's okay. To be honest, they all seemed a little bit tired and sleepy, looking a lot like a band that's been doing this for 18 years. But they still played great, they played the hits, and holy crap can Neko Case seriously sing. She's unbelievable. I'd follow her into battle.

04.09.2017
Future Islands
The Far Field

I'm super impressed by Future Islands' ability to stay the course. They easily could've gone the obnoxious route after 2015's "breakthrough", hiring big-name producers (Danger Mouse?) or bringing in bigger sounds (Danger Mouse and an orchestra?) or—mercy—partnering with Young Thug or something. But what they did is make another Future Islands album. And while part of me is curious about what exactly "next level Future Islands" might've sounded like, I'm perfectly happy just taking 12 more songs of Sam Herring—possibly the best voice in all popular music right now—singing over some steely driving indie new wave.


(1)
04.08.2017
Mastodon
Emperor of Sand

Over the last 15 years, every Mastodon album has been something. Remission was the brutal and concise debut. Leviathan was the transformation from concision to confidence. Blood Mountain was the big weird bold step into 'anything goes and we can do it all.' Crack The Skye was the mellowed out prog concept album. The Hunter was an all-out refinement down to songwriting basics. Once More Round the Sun was seemingly an appeal to mainstream popular metal. Things were going so well until those last two. So I was a little nervous for the state of Mastodon leading up to Emperor of Sand... and I'm still a little nervous. I'm really not sure what this album is, how it fits in. If anything, Emperor of Sand is every Mastodon album at once—there's some Remission/Leviathan rage, there's some Blood Mountain weirdness, there's a lot of Skye vocal trading and layering, and there's unfortunately still plenty of Hunter/Once More 3-minute tunes potentially ready for hard rock radio. I don't know what to do with it. Luckily, Mastodon happens to be really, really good. So even if I'm confused by its mission, I still enjoy the hell out of this album.


(1)
04.07.2017
Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

A Crow Looked at Me is such a personal record that I hesitate to even call it a 'record.' I hesitate even more to attempt to write a review of it—or at least I would if I wrote reviews professionally for some critical venue or another. It's probably the best Phil Elverum record since The Glow Pt. 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear people say it's his best work ever, but even that praise feels imprudent. The situation is that is the man's wife died, and he wrote these songs to try to bear it. Some of them are journalistic records of post-loss minutiae, some are memories of the days and months previous, and some are urgent pleas to the universe to make sense of it all. It's all deeply moving and deeply personal, but written beautifully and honestly, prose poetry just barely formed into songs—and it's all written specifically to her, rather than to the listener or some omniscient third party. I'm not using hyperbole when I say that it's somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, as if these are private recordings not meant to be heard by anyone else. But Elverum released it because he wants to share, so I'm okay with it (although, in honesty, I haven't even turned the record to Side B yet. It's just too painful to engage with all in one sitting). Musically it's very pretty, free of nearly all of the instrumental obfuscation that he's practiced over the last decade, generally acoustic guitar and some assorted droning keys and basses. But lyrically, I think there's no question that it's the best work of his career, although again, even raising the question or placing these words in the same canon as his previous work feels entirely beside the point. The whole collection is wonderful, really, and while I'm sure Phil might appreciate hearing that, he almost certainly doesn't care. This isn't a record of music, it's a record of a man who is trying to cope by doing the one thing he knows best how to do: making a record.

04.03.2017
Cameron Avery
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams

Here's a funny one. I bought the wrong album!

What I thought I was buying was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player of The War On Drugs, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. What I actually bought was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player from Tame Impala, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. Imagine my surprise.

So what happened is that, yeah, both of those albums exist. And I think I listened to songs from both just a few days before. But instead of hearing the spooky and psychedelic choral swirls of the War On Drugs guy (Dave Hartly), I heard Cameron Avery's American-songbook inspired throwback crooning. But I don't mind, because it's good! And perhaps better than being "good," it's interesting.

The thing about this album is that it's a little gross. Whether he's writing these songs to be tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or even experimental, there's a palpable machismo to the whole thing. Songs about lovin' and leavin' and sayin' "sorry babe" when you have to hit the road with your band, telling your girl to get her hair nice and pretty so you can take a drive with the top down—hell, just referring to her as "your girl". This is all stuff that was probably in music in some times and places, and you could probably hear far worse in any random hip hop album of the last couple decades, but there is something jarring about even hearing someone referring to "my girl" on what's ostensibly an indie rock record. But looking past the lyrics—which yeah, are interesting and impactful in their shamelessness, if a little bit blunt at times—the music here is very much inspired by classic American songbook fare, and not in some corny, Pat Boone kind of way—they're beautifully constructed tunes, and recorded with the earnest grit of a National or Walkmen album, not an ironic horn section to be heard. And what keeps this all from becoming just too much is that, shit, this dude can fucking sing. I'm not saying he'd win American Idol or anything, but he'd at least make it to Hollywood. Although beyond a couple tracks, he actually handles most of the vocals more in the Leonard Cohen (late 80s Leonard Cohen) vein. Really, the short version of this review is "Leonard Cohen performing A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night with The National as the backing band". I can see a point six months from now when I'm sick of this album and never want to hear it again, but for now I'm absolutely fascinated by it.

07.23.2017 - by Steve
Pies & ThighsBroooklyn
Pecan pie

Hey, guess what Pies & Thighs sells. And guess which particular Brooklyn neighborhood it's in. Yep! I wanted to get to this place years ago on my last trip to NYC, but it never really worked out. Back then it seemed like it had just opened, and was still a bit of a dirty mysterious hole in the wall. Since then, it's turned into a real scene. It's still fairly small (though it might've moved locations?), but it is swarming with people, even at an off hour. Ands it's kinda hot and stuffy in there. Anyway, I got a slice of pecan pie, and it looked terrible (work on your presentation, Pies & Thighs!), but hey, it tasted good. Not quite Stockholm Pie Company good, but very good.

07.22.2017 - by Steve
Gray's PapayaManhattan
Hot dogs

Gray's Papaya is a bit of a venerable Manhattan institution, noted for their cheap hot dogs and... I guess just their cheap hot dogs. And guess what? They taste like cheap hot dogs. No I didn't try the papaya juice.

07.22.2017 - by Steve
BonchonQueens
Fried chicken

One of the only real food goals I had going into NYC was maybe a weird one. Thing is, you can get "good" food anywhere now. Minneapolis is just as much of a "food town" as anywhere else. Maybe there's not as many restaurants as New York or Chicago or San Francisco or whatever, but there's always places that are (more or less) as good as those places. But what we don't have are places like Bonchon—weird international (usually Asian) chain restaurants that have hundreds or thousands of locations in their native regions, but maybe just have one or two in the US, usually in New York or LA. My original goal was to go to Jollibee, a mega-popular fast food chain that started in the Philippines, to get some fried chicken and a burger and spaghetti. You know, just like in the Philippines. But I changed my mind when I noticed this place Bonchon, which is a Korean fried chicken chain. Because I've long had a yearning for this mysterious Korean spicy fried chicken, which I've read about and heard about as being amazing, but there's nowhere to get it here in the Twin Cities.

So I journey to Jackson Heights, Queens, which incidentally, is supposedly the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the world, and also incidentally, is where Jolibee is also located. When I found Bonchon, it surprised me, because it didn't look like a chain. It looked like a bar. My guess is that it used to be just some bar, but Bonchon bought the place and didn't really do anything other than slap their sign on it and maybe put up a random chicken-related picture on a wall here or there. The other thing that surprised me? I didn't really like it! The chicken was very crispy, which is maybe the point of Korean fried chicken, and the appeal of Bonchon in general? But to me it was way too crispy. And even then, the supposedly spicy chicken barely had any spice to it. There was hardly any flavor at all. Just mega crunchy, kinda bland, kinda dry chicken. I don't know. Very disappointing. Still probably than Jollibee would've been though.

07.19.2017 - by Steve
Pat's King of SteaksPhiladelphia
Cheesesteak

Yes. Yes, yes, of course. Yes, I got a fucking cheesesteak in Philadelphia. And yes, yes, it was at Pat's. Did you think I wouldn't? Did you think I might actually have some amount of self respect and taste? That maybe I'd try to find the "real" best cheesesteak in Philadelphia, or maybe find some scrapple, rather than be a sucker tourist who just goes and finds that corner that's been featured on every single food TV show ever produced, with Pat's on one side and Geno's on the other, hollering at their customers and putting cheese whiz on their sandwiches? Did you really think I might be better than that?

Look. I thought I was too. I did some research. I found a couple places that supposedly have the best cheesesteaks in town. But I only had a short amount of time to spend in Philly, and those other places were nowhere near any train stops. Plus, double look, I've never been to Philadelphia. I'm sorry, but I have to do this. If I didn't eat at Pat's or Geno's, I'd think about it my whole life. It's just one of those things. Every city has their local favorites, their perennial beloved food haunts that help define them. But I think Pat's and Geno's are more inextricably tied to Philadelphia than any other restaurants are to their respective cities. So to hop off the Septa and walk 10 minutes to Pat's (which I only picked because it was about 100 feet closer) is to truly see Philadelphia. I saw Independence Hall, I saw the Liberty Bell (through a window), and I ate a fucking Pat's cheesesteak.

I've had better.


(1)
07.18.2017 - by Steve
WawaPhiladelphia
Hoagie

Here's a random dumb funny one! As a listener of Tom Scharpling's The Best Show on WFMU, I have been hearing for years about this mystical east coast convenience store chain called Wawa. Not simply a convenience store and occasionally a gas station, Wawa is well known for its hoagies, which are made fresh to order in store. It's like if every Super America had a full Jersey Mike's in the back. But beyond the minor novelty of it, these hoagies are by many accounts perhaps the best hoagies in the region. Which is crazy, because this is hoagie country!

So the Saturday of my trip left me with an entirely empty day, and I decided to hop a train to Philadelphia. And this meant one thing:I'm entering Wawa country. My day in Jersey was too far northeast for Wawas, apparently, so this was really my best chance. Luckily, there was one location in downtown Philadelphia within walking distance from Independence Hall (where I was hiding under trees to stay out of the rain). To my surprise, the ordering system was fully digital; you plugged your order into a touch screen, while someone behind the counter made the sandwiches in back. The process was painless enough, although I wish they offered more pre-curated sandwiches rather than make you pick each individual ingredient. Anyhow. I got basically an Italian, albeit with spinach and no pepperoni. It came out fairly quick, looked good enough. And it tasted... good. It was good. Not the best sandwich in the world, but certainly better than Subway. Maybe better than Jimmy Johns. Close to (my recent favorite) Jersey Mikes. Considering it was from the back of a convenience store, yeah, it was great! Was it worth the trip to Philadelphia? Hmm.

07.18.2017 - by Steve
Pizza PartyBrooklyn
Pizza

I had more pizza at a bar called Pizza Party, which is this close to being an annoyingly twee hipster name, but I think is actually fun and charming. Anyway, the pizza reminded me of our beloved 'Minnesota style' pizza, if that's actually a thing. It was pretty good I guess. I don't remember what else I had to say about the place. Anyway.


(1)
07.18.2017 - by Steve
Xi'an Famous FoodsManhattan
Hand pulled noodles

On the recommendation of a friend, I stopped in to Xi'an Famous Foods, which I'd specify was in Chinatown as an appeal to realness, but in reality it's a minor chain in Manhattan and has 4 or 5 locations. So it may as well have been the Upper West Side. Anyway, Xi'an is famous for their hand-pulled noodles, which are so fresh and meticulously crafted that the restaurant puts a pop-up warning on their website that you should absolutely not order these noodles to go. And furthermore that if you insist on getting them to go, to please at least take a bite or two out of the container before leaving the restaurant if you plan on leaving any sort of Yelp review. The warnings are infamous enough that I had 3 different people ask me "Did you see the warnings?" when I mentioned I was going to eat there.

This sounds a little crazy, but I can appreciate it. I especially appreciate it after eating them, because these noodles are fucking amazing. I should mention that the actual dish I ordered was the cumin lamb. But while the lamb itself was tasty and spicy and cuminy and everything you'd want in a szechuan style meat dish, the noodles stole the show. I've never in my life been so impressed by a simple noodle. But they were a perfect combination of chewy and tender, with some actual richness of flavor that's usually absent from this sort of noodle, adding a perfect base to the spicy lamb surrounding it. You guys. You get it. They were awesome noodles.

07.18.2017 - by Steve
San LocoBrooklyn
Tacos

After the disappointment of La Lupe, I still had a taco jones to fix. San Loco did the trick. This is a tiny little take-out counter that advertises itself specifically as "Gringo-mex". Or as I like to call them: "Mom tacos." Interesting see a non-chain place specifically advertise this sort of Americanized, Taco Bell style taco as a feature rather than a bug. But I guess San Loco has been around for quite a while in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and had a good enough reputation. Anyway, I got the San Loco equivalent of a double decker taco (basically the most perfect fast food item ever created, in my opinion; a hard shell taco coated in refried beans and wrapped in a flour soft shell. Get one next time you're at Taco Bell. It's great). And hey, it was great! Ground beef and cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce. Not trying to be a "real" taco, but absolutely satisfied me. Talk about authenticity all you want, but there's something to say about this global cultural exchange of ours.

07.17.2017 - by Steve
La Lupe CantinaBrooklyn
Tacos

La Lupe is a somewhat cool taco joint in Bushwick, but I'm not going to write much about it, because the service was unreasonably slow and the tacos were very boring. But the photo looks pretty, huh?

07.17.2017 - by Steve
Lucy'sBrooklyn
Smoked beef banh mi

You've already read my thoughts on the Brooklyn Vietnamese food scene. Actually, you probably haven't. Well scroll down to Little Mo and then come back up here maybe.

Back? Good. Hi there. Thing is, I didn't love Lucy's. I don't remember the details of why I didn't like it, but the bread felt wrong, the meat was a little tough, and in general it just didn't come together as I'd like it to. But part of that might have been spoiled expectations, because: Lucy's is the best smelling restaurant I've ever been or walked past. Not exaggerating. The place is tiny—it's basically a kitchen, a counter, and one table. So you're a lot closer to the smells of a kitchen than you often might be, making the smells that much stronger. But even then, the aroma coming out of Lucy's front door is incredible. Because aside from the standard smells of a Vietnamese kitchen, that pho broth and lemongrass and fish sauce, Lucy's is smoking meats back there. It's magical. I bet the pho is amazing, but my sandwich just didn't live up to the smell.

07.17.2017 - by Steve
Libby's LunchNew Jersey
Hot Texas weiner

Our second stop on the New Jersey bang-bang was Libby's Lunch, a charmingly historic and extremely Jersey diner in Paterson, NJ. The place is known for its vicinity to a waterfall and bridge featured in a memorable murder scene in The Sopranos, and also for its hot dogs, specifically the Hot Texas Weiner, which—not to get anyone's hopes down or anything—is basically a chili/coney dog. I'll be honest, I didn't love it. The chili sauce had some odd tang to it that I can't quite put my finger on, but it didn't totally agree with my palette. Maybe it was Juicy Platters' fault?

07.17.2017 - by Steve
Juicy PlattersNew Jersey
Mixed halal plate

As a brief intermission from New York, I hopped the river to to say hi to a friend who lives in Jersey City. We took a mini road trip tour of New Jersey, and participated in a classic Louie-style bang-bang. The first stop was Juicy Platters, a non-chain-but-clearly-considering-the-chain-opportunities Middle Eastern / Mediterranean halal place, which was a reputation (among these Jersey friends) for containing some black magic that goes beyond the sum of its shaved meats. The menu is about what you'd expect: pick from lamb or chicken or falafel, or a combination thereof, tossed on a plate with some rice and salad and hummus and various cucumber sauces and hot sauces. Or maybe wrap it all up in a pita and have it with some fries. Basically we're looking at Aida in the approachably colorful dressing of a Chicago hot dog chain. The food, yes, was quite good. I wouldn't say it was the best halal plate I've ever had, but my Jersey friends were right about one thing: There is something in the food. Some deeply satisfying ingredient, or chemical—MSG maybe, or possibly just their unique addition of sweet caramelized onions—that does something to your brain. Like that virus that makes mice fall in love with cats. When you finish eating Juicy Platters, you find yourself later wishing you were eating Juicy Platters again. Whenever I scrolled past the pictures on my phone, my mouth just naturally waters. I wish I was eating it now. And it wasn't even that good! So be careful. Juicy Platters will definitely some day be a chain. And they'll get you.

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Artichoke PizzaManhattan
Pepperoni pizza

I had a couple pizza slices during my trip (because of course), and the best one was probably from Artichoke Pizza in Greenwich Village. There appears to be a handful of Artichoke locations around town (including the airport, ugh), and yes, duh, they always have actual artichoke pizza on hand. My pet theory is that they started as just regular pizza place just called, like, Tony's New York Pizza 2 or something, and got a lot of press and acclaim for their artichoke pizza, and then just decided to have their cake and eat it and change the entire brand of the place. Anyhow, not much to say other than it was a very tasty slice of classic New York style pizza! Good!

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Little MoBrooklyn
Short rib banh mi

I was surprised at the number of Vietnamese places in Brooklyn. Well, maybe not simply the number (there are plenty more to be found in Minneapolis and St. Paul), but the number of cool Vietnamese places. Where most of the Twin Cities spots are hole in the wall, family affairs, the Brooklyn places seem to operate out of the "Hey, pho and banh mi are hot new food trends!" mindset. Which, sure, why not? Lucy's is the real hot spot (you probably scrolled past it already), but the best one I tried is Little Mo's. Not much to report in terms of the makeup of their banh mi—it's got all the stuff you want, and some nicely flavored short ribs—but the best thing about it was the bread. To me, the hard crunchy crust of the French roll that tops of a banh mi is often what ruins it. It shouldn't be painful to eat a sandwich! But Little Mo's bread actually had a nice softness to it, without feeling cheap or lesser. A great sandwich! Sadly: I overheard the cashier mention that the place would probably be closing soon. There's some elevated train construction happening nearby that's going to tie up that corner for months, and the owners just decided to shut it down entirely. So, you'll have to go to Lucy's instead I guess.