09.19.2017
Kendrick Lamar
Damn

I was wrong about Damn. I heard the singles and wrote it off. "It sounds like he's given up and reaching for radio hits," I grumbled. "It doesn't hold a candle to has last two unimpeachable classics" I groused. "It's everything wrong with the current state of popular music," I whinged. Oh but then I listened to the damn thing. I already said I was wrong, what more do you want from me?


(1)
09.19.2017
Milo
Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!

I miss early millennium indie rap. I didn't even like most of it at the time. But compared to the autotuned trap garbage getting thrown around all day every day in 2017, hearing a guy from Maine rap about poetry over electric pianos and jazz samples and breakbeats goes down real smooth. Don't know if I'll ever listen to this album in 2018, but I like having it around for now.

09.11.2017
Iron and Wine
Beast Epic

It seems most of the world has moved on from Iron and Wine after his last couple jazz-inflected Astral Weeks-lite experiments, which I actually liked, but I get it. Everybody is wearing black silk onesies and playing MIDI keyboards and appearing on Beyonce albums now. It makes sense that nobody has much room in their hearts for the beardy sad guy with a guitar. But Sam Beam doesn't care. He's not trying his hand at synthpop or Mumford arena folk. Hell no. In fact he's gone back to his original band and studio and recorded an OG-AF Iron and Wine album. And it's so nice.

09.11.2017
The Cure
Disintegration

I've long held a controversial opinion that Wild Mood Swings is the best Cure album. Look. It's not a hill I'm willing to die on. But I will say that "Plainsong" is untouchable.

08.08.2017
Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You

I'd heard of Mary Halvorson before in recent years, but I mostly randomly happened upon this new Away With You album. It's a fascinating listen. Halvorson is a jazz/improvisational guitarist, and the octet is made up mostly of what you'd imagine a traditional jazz octet to contain. But the music feels like something truly its own. It's jazz in that it contains improvisation, is mostly instrumental, and moves itself along themes and modal movements, but save for its occasional forays into noisey free-jazz nonsense, the goup plays more like an experimental post-rock band attempting to translate marches and waltzes through the freewheeling horns of a New Orleans parade band. Except I just read that sentence and it's not like that at all. I don't even know. The high points on here are near miraculous; everything comes together behind some beautiful descending chord progression and weirdo guitar melody, and it feels completely fresh and new. And fun! But then all too often, the tracks fall apart into noodly free-jazz bullshit and aimless drum solos. It's not going to find a place in my life the way that more melodically-composed recent albums by Mammal Hands or Courageous Endeavors, but still, this is something worth hearing, refreshingly outside any sort of modern jazz orthodoxy.

07.28.2017
Cornelius
Mellow Waves

The first half of Mellow Waves is Album Of The Year good. It takes everything you loved about Cornelius and melts it down into perfectly composed prog-pop that could only have been created by this one guy. It's a dang joy. The second half, as you probably guessed, sort of comes down from that high. It's not bad at all, but you want it to kick into some newer crazier gear, but instead it just chills out and slowly fades off. Which is fine. But I just feel like this could have been an all time great album. Instead it's merely very, mind-blowingly, frustratingly amazing.

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.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Pequod'sChicago
Deep dish sausage pizza

Since a polish and cheese fries and lime Oreo shake weren't quite enough, and since it's been a solid 7 or 8 years since I've last had "real" Chicago style pizza, we went for a legit bang bang, and ventured down to Pequod's, the former punk-rock bar in Lincoln Park that some of the more in-touch locals (and Anthony Bourdain, for what it's worth) would happily tell you is the best deep dish in town, better than that slop they serve you at Gino's East and Lou Malnatti's, and, god forbid, Giordano's. I wouldn't disagree with them necessarily, but in fairness it's been years and years since I've had Gino's, I don't think I've ever had Lou's. But yes, Giordano's is trash. But Pequod's, hell, I have have no complaints! It was a damn good pie! So, sure! Trust those who know. And just order a small. You'll be fine.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Susie's Drive ThruChicago
Polish, Green River Oreo shake

Stop #2 on my one-day whirlwind trip to Chicago: Susie's Drive Thru. This is some Chicago insider shit, you guys. You won't find it on lists, you won't find it in your local alt-weekly, you won't see it on the Food Network. But it's what dreams are made of. One of those tiny little corner joints way out in the boonies of Chicago, far enough away from the train that the cool kids will never make it there, with a menu that somehow has about 120 items on it, all of which are terrible for your health, but great for everything else, and at least 60 of which are probably delicious. I can personally vouch for the Maxwell polish and the Chicago dog and the cheese fries. But the main attraction here is some real batshit nonesense: The Green River Oreo shake. Green River, see, is some little midwestern-based citrus soda—think a slightly more limey Sprite. The Green River Oreo shake, then, is a shake with Green River and Oreos in it. The idea of mixing Oreos with limey citrus pop doesn't immediately sound too appealing. But let me tell you, it works. God knows how, but it works. Susie's isn't going to franchise any time soon, and I couldn't even tell you how to get there if you're ever in Chicago (do they even have a website or Yelp listing?), but if you happen to get lost and look up and see its glorious neon trim, do it.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Jaimito'sChicago
Al pastor taco

Jaimito's is one of hundreds of neighborhood taco joints in Chicago, so this isn't me trying to rank it or compare to any of the others. This just just me saying, "Hey, I was in Chicago and I was hungry so I popped in to this place called Jaimito's and got a taco. It was pretty good, and even though it was a traditional style taco place, they also put lettuce and shredded cheese on the taco, and I'm totally okay with that because it tasted good."

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Emily's Lebanese DeliNortheast Minneapolis
Raw kibbeh, cabbage rolls

Lebanese seems to be the most modest of middle eastern cuisines. Fresh, simple, lightly seasoned, beige. Downright pleasant. Emily's is a modest but beloved Lebanese place, just a couple blocks away from my apartment, surrounded by a couple Lebanese churches, and is so modestly pleasant that I often forget it's even there. But recently I remembered that it's there, and had a perfectly modestly pleasant dinner, which consisted of cabbage rolls, stuffed grape leaves, and the pièce de résistance: raw kibbeh. Yes, like the mediterranean version of beef carpaccio, kibbeh is basically uncooked ground beef and lamb, mixed with some grains and onion and spices, and served with a raw onion and pita. From what I've read about it, the secret to keeping kibbeh safe is also what makes it particularly delicious; it's all about knowing the butcher you're receiving the meat from, grinding it on a completely clean and sterile blade, and preparing the dish immediately before serving it. So while it's maybe a little scary in this day and age to eat a dish like this, the fact that it's made with such care (and high quality, freshly butchered meat), that the final product is outstanding. Much better than the sum of its parts. The cabagge rolls and grape leaves, meanwhile: eh. I prefer Kramarczuk's rolls. Still, if you ever want to give something different a shot, find your local Lebanese place (probably Emily's!), and go for the kibbeh. If you make it through the night, you won't regret it.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Portillo'sWoodbury
Italian beef sandwich

Portillo's is apparently a beloved Chicagoland hot dog and italian beef chain (dare I say "institution"?) that had somehow eluded my awareness during my previous visits. But they just opened their first Minnesota location, out in the aesthetically and morally repugnant city of Woodbury. I don't know how to properly describe this place; imagine Chris & Rob's, or some other 'Chicago style' eatery, set in a gigantic—almost Cosetta sized—Chicago themed amusement park restaurant, absolutely swarming with people (I imagine all of the Twin Cities area Chicago transplants took their Labor Day to venture out there), every nook and cranny and sign and uniform designed to evoke a particular old-timey Chicago hot-doginess.

A little bird had told me that they had the best Italian beefs in Chicago, but I have to say, I was a little let down. It wasn't bad. It was fine and good. But considering a meal at Portillo's demands a trip out to Woodbury and a battle against all the east metro has to offer, I think you're just as well off going to Chris & Rob's for your piles of wet Vienna beef and hot peppers.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Nico'sUptown Minneapolis
Tacos

Nico's is the current 'other' house-based restaurant on Hennepin, right next to (the tasty-but-I-can't-believe-they're-still-in-business) Namaste Cafe. It's basically a Mexican place with decent tacos and a nice porch. You could do worse.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Ghorka PalaceNortheast Minneapolis
Lamb newari choyla

It was about damn time that I finally went to Ghorka Palace, and I'm glad I did. I think Ghandi Mahal is still my favorite Indian place in town, but it's now a real competition. This newari choyla deal I had was maybe one of the best Indian dishes I've ever ordered. Basically charred tandoori lamb, served with some random little bites, almost bento box style, with yogurt and naan. Every bit of it was fantastic, and a nice relief from the normal wet stewed curries I usually get. I will be sure to report back after a second visit to see how much Ghandi Mahal needs to be worried.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
RunzaNorth Platte
Runza sandwich

While I was in North Platte, Nebraska, I happened upon one of those little miracles of road tripping: a truly unique local fast food chain. It's called Runza, and from what I've gathered, it's a Nebraska institution that exists almost nowhere else. Beautiful. I assumed it was just some local sandwich chain, but Runza specializes in this very particular German immigrant food that probably has a particular German name, but here are just called "Runza sandwiches." They have some different kinds, but the core version is basically ground beef sautéed with onion and cabbage, and probably some paprika, baked inside a bread roll. That's it. It doesn't sound that remarkable, especially as far as German and eastern European ethnic restaurants go, but remember this is a fast food chain. Outside of these beef and cabbage sandwiches, they also serve fries and onion rings and cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches. But the Runza is clearly the star, and for a beef and cabbage fast food chain, it was dang good! I burned my mouth on the first bite, but otherwise it was a thoroughly satisfying sandwich, that was a nice relief from fast food cheeseburgers and tacos. I don't know if I'd frequent it too often if Runzas ever made their way up to Minnesota (which they almost certainly won't), but if I ever find myself driving through nowhereseville Nebraska again, I'd definitely go back.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Sand Hill LoungeLong Pine, Nebraska
Ribeye sandwich

This is a very long story that would make a great M&F post, but I'm exhausted and who really cares anyway.

What happened is, dear future reader, there was a total solar eclipse that crossed the country in 2017 (before The Great Undoing took place, so you may not remember). To experience the totality in person, I drove down to Nebraska, and camped out in this lovely little forested nook called Long Pine. In the town of Long Pine itself, which consisted of basically a post office, a ranch supply store, a grocery store, and maybe two more mysterious empty buildings. But at the end of the mainstreet was the Sand Hill Lounge, a not-too-scary dive bar and "steak house," with enough cars parked outside that I figured it must be at least edible.

I'll spare you a description of the small-town Nebraskan clientele (most of whom had literally just come from rodeo), but suffice it to say: yikes. Anyway, since this is cattle country, I went with a ribeye steak sandwich. And hashbrowns. Because hashbrowns are the best. It turns out that people in cattle country really know their beef. This was a fantastic sandwich! It was a nicely cooked steak, clearly was fresh and cared for, tender and tasty, decent au jus, and some damn fine hashbrowns. Oh and the eclipse was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced, but whatever.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
The Draft HorseNortheast Minneapolis
Roast beef sandwich

The Draft Horse is bougie new place in an unbougie corner of Northeast, and their roast beef was fatty and bland, and this is basically everything I hate about Minneapolis restaurants in 2017.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Yankee Clipper DeliQueens
Italian sandwich, rigatoni

This is the last in the surprisingly long collection of entries about my recent trip to New York! Because of the way I built this site and arranged these posts (and admittedly my own laziness, because I could easily swap them around), you need to scroll all the way down (keep scrolling!) to the first NYC entry about 15 posts down if you care to read them in order. Which you shouldn't.

Here's a weird one! So finally, after a day of flight delays and a cancellation, I'm about to go home. When my ride drops me off at La Guardia's Terminal 1, I'm immediately confused about where I am. See, Terminal 1 is apparently one of the oldest airport terminals still functioning in this country. It's basically one relatively small building, a beautifully designed and restored art-deco era hub, filled with marble floors and original 1930s aviation-inspired murals on the walls. But it still feels odd. Airports aren't like this anymore. It was quiet. And empty. And tiny. And there was only 1 place to eat, the depressingly-generic-looking Yankee Clipper Deli.

I had no idea this is what I was getting into, or else I would've grabbed lunch before leaving. But I had no choice. And then something funny happened: I actually walked in to the Yankee Clipper and looked at their food selection. It was legit! I mean, not like it was some amazing chef-focused restaurant or something, but this place was like a real NY neighborhood deli. They had Boars Head meats, a full made-to-order grill, and trays of shockingly-homemade-looking roasted chicken, rigatoni, roast veggies, and other Italian-American fare. I went with an Italian hoagie and a side of rigatoni. They made it fresh right there, quality meat, fresh-sliced, good produce, good roasted peppers, gave me a can of coke, and I checked out without having to wait in any line. And you know what? It was a damn good sandwich! And damn good rigatoni! And as I sat eating, the place filled up with more and more airport employees, who clearly knew about this place as some sort of La Guardia secret.

In the end, it was actually one of the most satisfying meals I had in NYC. Not the best, not by a long shot. But it was so nice and refreshing and easy, especially for an airport terminal, and especially since my expectations were so low. Then I bussed my tray, walked about 50 feet to the security line, which was nonexistent since there are only a small handful of flights that fly out of this weird little terminal, grabbed my flight and went home.

And now, back to your regular Minneapolis food nitpicking!

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Sweet ChickBrooklyn
Chicken and waffles

The great Williamsburg bang-bang, part 2: Sweet Chick! So, I walked past this place a handful of times throughout the night, simultaneously annoyed ("Ugh, of course, a hipster chicken and waffles joint on Bedford Avenue in fucking Williamsburg"), and intrigued ("Ugh, chicken and waffles sound really good"). But of course, since it's a hipster chicken and waffles joint on Beford Avenue in fucking Williamsburg, it was packed to the gills every time I checked back, even at 10:30 at night.

But eventually, I saw a spot at the bar open up, and my inner intrigued voice beat out my inner annoyed voice. After all, this was my real last night in New York, I may as well give in and pay through the nose for some Williamsburg fried hipster. I squeezed in at the bar (surrounded of course by local bartenders and other staff members who apparently just hang out at this place at all hours of the night even on their off nights), and ordered the regular fried chicken with the dried cherry waffles. Okay. Look. It was really good. Like perfectly good. Like, I've had chicken and waffles plenty of times, and it's always sort of good enough, but never quite reaches that magic pinnacle of what you assume chicken and waffles should hit. Well these hit it. Thoroughly satisfying.

I learned later, in a beautiful cosmic coincidence that did tie a nice bow around my trip, that Sweet Chick is owned by the same husband-and-wife duo that owns Pearl's, the first place I ate on this NYC adventure, and also one of the best. Whatever my misgivings about modern day restauranteurship may be, these two certainly know how to make some incredible food.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Crif DogsBrooklyn
Hot dogs

So what happened is: My flight got cancelled and rescheduled for the next evening, so I got an extra night in the city! Lucky me! Lucky me? Well, I guess the place I was staying was free, so I can't complain. So to make the most of it, I decided to do a classic Louie-style bang bang!

Dinner 1: Hot dogs. Boring, yeah. But it sounded good. I hit up this little place in Williamsburg called Crif Dogs. They deep fry them there, which I hear is sort of a New Jersey thing. Which is funny, because the hot dog I had in New Jersey wasn't deep fried. Anyhow, I don't know, they were good! The chili dog was particularly good in that chili dog sort of way. Better than the NJ chili dog even. Otherwise, not a whole lot to report. On to the 2nd part of the bang bang!