07.30.2015
The Go! Team
The Scene Between
I think I gave this a positive review earlier this summer. But I want to make it positiver. This is a kickass album. It's so super. Top to bottom. It's what Top 40 radio would sound like if the world was much cooler—still as maximalist as previous Go! Team records, but somehow completely streamlined into its most important parts. Put it on at pizza parties. Turn it up too loud on your headphones on the bus so everyone else can hear it. Melt it into a paste and cover your disgusting body in it. Love it.

(1)
07.24.2015
Tame Impala / Future
Currents / DS2
I hate this. All of it. Both of 'em. While Tame Impala and Future may seem to have very little in common, both of these records have led me to the same point of frustration and defeat, like two perpendicular paths traveling separately for miles and converging in a Y at the middle of the biggest, crudest, tackiest piece of modern architecture you've ever seen. These two albums, both released last week, to critical acclaim, seem to be a clear sign that I just don't get it anymore. Or rather, whatever it is that I value in music, has now in 2015 become verifiably separated from what tastemakers, critics and bloggers and consumers alike, value. And while Tame Impala makes psychedelic indie rock, and Future makes Atlanta trap-style rap mixtapes, both of their new records seem to me to be pinnacles of style-over-substance, layers and layers of sound (and fury?), maxed out, obscuring the actual content of the artist, compressed to max volume to sound good if you're not really listening, a big jumble of genre signifiers and Logic Pro presets glued together to present mediocre art dressed up as works of genius. Both are totally devoid of soul; DS2 with its trap-style shrill 808 hi-hats, Currents with its mid-tempo 4/4 mega-compressed kick-on-1-and-3 and snare-on-2-and-4; DS2 with its endless droning low-end bass, Currents with its endless droning 80s-aping synth; DS2 with Future's completely incomprehensible mumbling auto-tuned rap, Currents with its constant falsetto'd reverb-soaked crooning. I've tried so hard to get something out of both, but I just can't. Maybe 10 years from now I'll be proven totally wrong, and I'm being an idiot. But I think it's bad. And I'm clearly on the wrong side public opinion at the moment. Either way, this might be the point at which I've become an old man who hates new things. #MusicIsDead
07.19.2015
Wilco
Star Wars
Jeff Tweedy: Hey guys, I totally forgot we have to do the Pitchfork Festival next weekend! Here, I scrounged up some demos from Loose Fur and the record I made with my son so we can release a secret free album and get some buzz first. Can you guys help me record it tonight?

Nels Cline: Seriously? Ugh. I don't know. I have to go across town to record a jazz album in two hours. Can I just make a bunch of noise with my guitar and set the mics really close to the amp?

Jeff Tweedy: Sure, I guess, yeah.

Glenn Kotche: Can I offset his impenetrable guitar fuzz with tastefully humanistic percussion?

Jeff Tweedy: That's the spirit, Glenn!

John Stirratt & Pat Sansone (in unison): Can we—

Jeff Tweedy: Who are you?

And... scene!


(1)
07.19.2015
Brian Eno
Another Green World
I'm finally grown up enough for Brian Eno solo records. I see it now. It all makes sense. Maybe by this time next year I'll be ready for Music for Airports.
07.19.2015
Eleanor Friedberger
Personal Record
This has become, along with Devin Davis' Lonely People Of The World, Unite, one of my go-to summertime albums. I might not touch it during the winter, but as soon as the sun comes out and the temperature hits 60, I can put this record on any time, any day, and not get sick of it. I've listened to it three times in the last two weeks alone. It's great. And I've also decided it's the second best album in the Fiery Furnaces' continuum. (Blueberry Boat, obvz.)
07.19.2015
Failure
The Heart is a Monster
20 years later, Failure for some rea$on decided that they needed to release a follow up to Fantastic Planet. 18 year old me is absolutely freaking out. 33 year old me is, like, whatever. At first it's okay, and better than you'd think it would be, and surprisingly closer in spirit to Magnified than Planet, but then even on a second spin you realize there's nothing to latch onto, and more than Magnified, it's actually a combination of Year of the Rabbit and Autolux and basically these guys are in their 40s and have been in recording studios for so many years that what spark could possibly be left? But anyway, there's actually a few good songs on it, "Mulholland Drive" for one, "I Can See Houses" for two, which damn near sounds like something off of Comfort, and the "Segue"s for three-through-eight. Honestly, I think these guys could still make a great album, it's still in them. They just need to embrace some of the weirdness of the Segues, and of "Mulholland Drive", and go all out in the studio and not worry about making an "epic rock record."
06.08.2015
Brad Mehldau
Highway Rider
I'm ready to place Highway Rider in the pantheon of Greatest Albums Ever Made That Nobody Other Than Steve Seems To Feel Are The Greatest Albums Ever Made. It's beautiful. It's flawless. It's unlike any record—jazz or otherwise—I've ever heard, without being esoteric or difficult. It's so good you guys. It should be on every list. And I might be the only one who cares.
06.02.2015
Jim O'Rourke
Simple Songs
Here's this new Jim O'Rourke album, the news of which a month or two ago reignited my interest in Jim O'Rourke's older pop records, which in turn has made me completely obsessed with Jim O'Rourke. I won't bore you with the details, you can maybe browse the archives for those. This here Simple Songs feels like it sits right in the middle of Insignificance (which I've decided is his pop masterpiece), Eureka, and Bad Timing—sort of a culmination of his entire last decade of pop rock experimentation. Where it ranks in terms of quality, it's hard to tell right now. His arrangements are still spot-on, and more complex than ever. But I wish it had some of the melodic bite of Insignificance, rather than the dreamy wandering of his instrumental stuff. Still, this is pure record-making dopamine. This guy knows how to place a microphone and angle an amp and tell the horns exactly when to kick in.

(1)
06.02.2015
Kamasi Washington
The Epic
For the first time since, maybe, when the Bad Plus did "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or when Brad Mehldau did some Radiohead covers, it feels like a jazz artist is making a legitimate splash in the mainstream. Or the hipster-music-geek mainstream, at least. Okay, the NPR music-geek mainstream. But unlike those two, Kamasi Washington and his band/orchestra isn't doing it on novelty covers (apologies to the legitimate genius of Brad Mehldau). He's doing it by releasing a triple album of epic, psychedelic, bluesy, souly, trippy, sublime, 70's-inspired jazz composition. And even those six adjectives undersell it. It's massive. A 10 piece band. A full orchestra. A Morricone-inspired choir. Huge. But somehow it comes off as totally reasonable, almost personal. It'll take time to totally digest it, and I didn't immediately fall in love with it as I did Mehldau's similarly orchestrated-but-more-melodic Highway Rider, but I can say that it deserves every bit of the attention it's getting. (And, okay, admittedly most of that attention is coming from the fact that he, along with collaborators Flying Lotus and Thundercat played on Kendrick Lamar's equally dense, equally genius To Pimp A Butterfly earlier this year.)
06.02.2015
The Darkness
Last of Our Kind
I had to buy this new Darkness record online because I was too embarrassed to buy it at a record store. What would the cute record store girl think of me? A grown man in 2015 buying a Darkness CD? Even I'm disgusted by the thought. But the fact is (and I'm sure this is backed up by my previous Darkness reviews), these guys are fuckin' good. Last of Our Kind might be their worst—or least best, rather—but it still has good moments all over it. It seems to be their heaviest, and least melodic, and they make the huge mistake of letting someone other than Justin Hawkins sing on the second track (seriously... what do you think we're listening to this band for?), but as a whole it's super, super listenable, and scratches all those Darkness itches that a few of us still have left.
05.23.2015
The Kinks
Arthur
I thought Arthur was going to be the album that finally and completely wins me over on the Kinks. Village Green has lots of great moments, and obviously "Waterloo Sunset" is one of the greatest gifts England has given the world, but as a whole I think I just don't like these guys. I can't take away any of the influence they've had, or the ground they broke. I just don't like them. They seem mean. It's like the musical equivalent of "resting bitch face." I've tried and tried, but me and the Kinks just don't get along.
05.09.2015
Hop Along
Painted Shut
First Sleater-Kinney, then Screaming Females, and now Hop Along; if I was an editor for Rolling Stone who was creatively depressed and hated his life (as opposed to, well...), I would write a cover story declaring 2015 the Year Of Girlz Who Rawk! I don't know if the cover shot would be particularly sexy, but the lede would remain the same. The best straight-up guitar rock albums coming out this year are all coming from female-fronted groups. Hop Along's Painted Shut is the strangest of the three. From what I gather, the lead singer started out doing Joanna Newsom-y girly freak folk, with the weird voice warbles and all, until she started this new group with her brother, combining her hugely powerful pipes with some laser-focused, hard hitting 90's-influenced mathy indie rock. So in its heaviest moments, you do get a bit of a Sleater-Kinney vibe, albeit with some gravelly vocals that could tear flesh. But then you get some mellower acoustic moments, where her art-school-girl warble comes out, and you're glad she decided kick some ass instead. Then you get some moments stuck in between, where it's like Joanna Newsom fronting Shudder To Think, and you're pretty sure you've never heard anything like it before, as familiar as it might seem. (Okay, it's not as amazing as "Joanna Newsom fronting Shudder to Think" might seem. But it's damn good.) There's also two–two!–songs about watiresses. So maybe don't worry too much about the lyrics.
05.09.2015
Built to Spill
Untethered Moon
I have nothing to say about this album.
04.23.2015
Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
This is Alabama Shakes' "difficult third album." Problem is it's only their second album. I really, really wanted that second album. It was going to be a serious step up from their promising debut, the capital-R Rawk album from a super tight band just getting better and better after a couple years of touring. But they skipped right past it, and instead decided to record a D'Angelo album, Radiohead album, Bon Iver album, at the same time as an Alabama Shakes album. And it's the damndest thing—it works! I wish the songs were better, and I wish the instrumental performances were a little stronger, but as a whole, it sounds great, it's moody and interesting, and I keep going back to it. I just wish it rawked a little more.

(1)
07.30.2015 - by Steve
Red Wagon Pizza Co. - South Minneapolis
Banh mi pizza, beet pizza, sausage pizza
As pointed out by one member of last night's pizza party, "Red Wagon Pizza" sounds like the name of some terrible family restaurant, with clowns and free popcorn and birthday parties and awful pizza. But it is not. It's a fancy-pants grown-up pizza establishment (It's "Red Wagon Pizza Co., you see), much like Pizzeria Lola. In fact, it's a lot like Pizzeria Lola; wood-fired, funky ingredients, modern/rustic interior. And oddly enough, the two are only six or seven blocks away from each other. Maybe the Red Wagon people assumed Lola was so popular that they could reap the overflow crowd? Weird. And the problem is, now that they've all but forced us to compare them to Lola, their's is clearly the inferior product. It's not bad. It's fine enough. But none of it touches the (near) perfection of Lola. Their banh mi pizza pales in comparison to Lola's Korean barbecue pizza. Their beet pizza, as interesting as it might sound, pales in comparison to Lola's potato pizza. Their sausage and fig-balsamic pizza—blah blah blah. You get it. Point is, this would probably be a great addition to some other neighborhood. Or a suburb (other than Robbinsdale, which already has the far superior Pig Ate My Pizza). It's just not good enough for where it's at.

(1)
07.24.2015 - by Steve
Prairie Dogs - Uptown Minneapolis
Duck fat and foie gras dog, chili dog
I'll get this out of the way first. Prairie Dogs should be a counter-service eatery. Period. For what they serve (all sorts of fancy hot dogs and sausages), they don't need to be full service. Drives me crazy. This city needs more counter service places. Oh, and also their interior decoration is completely wrong. It's the generic hipster/Pinterest/reclaimed-barn-wood/architectural-antique-lighting-fixture-chic that every fucking restaurant does these days. I'm tired of it. They need to be more like Chicago's (now sadly but maybe mercifully defunct) Hot Doug's. Just make a fun, easy, un-fussy little counter-service joint, and blow people's minds with your crazy hot dog inventions. And about those hot dog inventions... they seem to be on the right track with what I had, even if I didn't exactly love it. The chili dog was fine, though it had a cheddar sauce which was a bit overpowering. Good cheddar, at least, not just crappy Velveeta. A little too rich. The other dog though, seemingly the crown-jewel of their menu, was a dog fried in duck fat (psst, Hot Doug's!), and topped with a currant-and-apple relish, and some foie gras-based concoction. I have to say, the relish was great, but there was some flavor I was catching between the foie gras and the duck fat that I actually found really gross. Like, almost gag-reflex gross. This is probably my fault. I'm not blaming Prairie Dogs. It was a flavor I've experienced before, and didn't like it then, and don't like it now. Yuck. But anyway, the owner was working the bar, and seemed really decent and nice, and patient with his 20-year-old hipster employees, and we had a pleasant conversation about Robin Trower. And they had the Twins game on the TV. So I'll be back. Just, like, counter service. Please.
07.24.2015 - by Steve
Peninsula - Uptown Minneapolis
Roti canai
So now that we have it on record that I don't like Nepalese food (see below), I'd like to add this note: I really like Malaysian food. Peninsula seems to make okay Malaysian food, but my heart is with the more local spot Singapore (though the ownership and customer service situation there is comically charming at best, and aggressively incompetent at worst), and a single curry dish that Sea Salt serves and is maybe one of my favorite dishes in the whole city. But no matter how dull some of their entrees might get, Peninsula offers a roti canai, basically a nice chewy sheet of roti bread, and a little cup of chicken and potato curry dipping broth, which is a damn-near perfect plate of food. Even though it's just meant as an appetizer or side for sharing, I feel like I could eat it and nothing else and be totally happy. And at $4.50, I have to think that it's perhaps the best sub-$5 plate of food you can find in this town.
07.19.2015 - by Steve
The Himalayan - South Minneapolis
Chicken curry
Confession: I don't really like Tibetan/Nepalese food. I don't dislike it; I don't think it's gross or anything. It just feels like I'm wasting my time when I eat it. Maybe I'm going to the wrong restaurants, or ordering the wrong items, but it all seems like really humble, subtle, rustic versions of Indian food, emerging from a temperate mountain region where there simply aren't as many ingredients to pick from. And why would I want humble and subtle Indian food when I can get awesome and amazing and spicy and bold Indian food? Just a quarter mile down the street from The Himalayan is the best Indian restaurant in the city! I sat there eating and appreciating my chicken curry, which was just fine quality-wise, but really I wanted to get up and go to Gandhi Mahal.
07.19.2015 - by Steve
The Happy Gnome - St. Paul
Poutine, elk burger
Hey, St. Paulites, you won. I finally went to your damn Happy Gnome. A place that you people seem to hold in the highest esteem, yet barely registers in the minds of Minnaepolites. But I went. And I'm glad, because it was good. Specifically, its poutine, which is really like poutine on steroids, fully baked with all sort of sausage and cheese and surprises, was good. Really good. Not as good as the Rabbit Hole's HK poutine, but that's a different category altogether. Anyway, I liked the Happy Gnome a lot in general (my burger was undercooked almost to the point of 'gross,' but that's okay). Even though it fits right into the mold of "gastropub," there seemed to be a real honesty about it, an integrity. Which makes sense, because I guess they were really one of the first. They're not playing make believe like so many other similar joints these days, they're one of the prototypes. I'll definitely go back, if I could remember where it was.
06.14.2015 - by Steve
Pico de Gallo - Northeast Minneapolis
Tacos
Taco Riendo has become, in recent years, the go-to quality taco joint in this city, and for good reason. It's delicious. But suddenly we have a challenger, and it's right next door! Literally. I think it's actually in Riendo's old location. And honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they share a kitchen and are maybe even owned by the same people, because their food is remarkably similar, both in flavor and quality. Which is awesome, because Riendo is awesome. And now Pico de Gallo is also awesome. I had three tacos: steak, al pastor, and barbacoa. The steak was a bit forgettable (but still good), but the pastor was fantastic, and the barbacoa was fantasticer. Just super flavorful and bold and great. I might even go on a limb and say Pico is better than Riendo (whaaaaat?), because—get this—free chips and salsa! Good salsa, too.

(1)
06.14.2015 - by Steve
Big Brother Almighty - Food Truck
Pulled pork
Big Brother Almighty. It's a food truck. With barbecue. You've probably seen it around town. I have. A few times. This time, it was at the Minnesota United game in Blaine. And I ate it. And whatever. The mac and cheese was satisfying. The barbecue was at least better than crappy Aramark barbecue, but otherwise wasn't anything special.
06.12.2015 - by Steve
Asian Invasion - Food Truck
Banh Mi
The St. Paul Saints held an exhibition game free to the public the other day, at their new Lowertown St. Paul ballpark, against a touring team from the Japanese Shikoku Island League. Well I like ballparks! I like baseball! I like free! So I went. I'll leave my ballpark review for my other blog, Movies & Ballparks, but in general I'll say it was fine. The problem with this afternoon exhibition game, though, was they only had one concession stand open! And of course the line for it was 100+ people long and rounded a couple different corners. Luckily, the park is just two blocks from Mears Park, where downtown St. Paul places its daily lineup of lunchtime food trucks. So I snuck out of the game, walked over to the park, and got me a pork banh mi and some gyoza from the Asian Invasion truck, in honor of the visiting Japanese team (OMG racist). The sandwich, like the new ballpark, was fine. Just fine. And the Saints lost.

(1)
06.12.2015 - by Steve
Sonora Grill - South Minneapolis
Chicken and chorizo khinkali
I don't know when Sonora Grill started serving Argentinian-Georgian fusion, but I don't care. These chicken and chorizo khinkali are the best things I've eaten in months. They're essentially fried dumplings, filled with chicken tinga and chorizo and salsa verde and peanuts(!), and topped with a creamy chipotle sauce. Nothing complicated, but so goddamn good.

(1)
05.22.2015 - by Steve
Foxy Falafel - St. Paul
Falafel
Be glad I waited a few days before writing this review, or else you would have had to dodge a whole lot of f-words in it. Half of it wasn't Foxy Falafel's fault (there's three!), but half of it kinda was. Here's the epic tale:

1.) An older couple ordering ahead of me took forever to figure out what they wanted. They were classic nervous, timid, overwhelmed Minnesota old people, who were totally in over their heads trying to order from a menu that was completely foreign to them. The guy at one point even said, "I don't really like things that are too adventurous. I like my food plain, you know?". Their hemming and hawing and indecision was one thing, but the person taking their order did very little to help them out (or speed them up). It was super frustrating.
2.) When I finally ordered, I went to sit outside, where I was approached by a very intoxicated Native man (there's a reason I specify that), who was holding a bag. He then asked me if I wanted to buy a hat. I said no. He then pulled a hat—a Washington Redskins hat—out of the bag, and said it was only five dollars. I said no, please no. He then got mad at me and said he'd go back and sell it to someone on University, "Where the big boys are." I said fine, go do that. He then told me I was being a jerk and he was just a "businessman" trying to do business. And he took his hat to University and I took my number back inside.
3.) While waiting a long time for my falafel, the scared-of-his-own-shadow old guy who finally ordered chicken shawarma, got up and brought his plate back up to the counter, because he didn't know if it was chicken or not. It wasn't. The employee was confused, but the guy wouldn't explain that he ordered chicken, and that was falafel. He didn't know what it was. It was maddening to watch. Eventually the employee, who thought he had ordered falafel (I heard the guy myself order chicken), asked if he wanted a new dish with chicken. He wouldn't say yes, but also wouldn't say no, and the employee wouldn't just say, "sorry let me get you chicken." So awkward. I was pulling my hair out and eating it with tzatziki.
4.) When my falafel finally showed up, they'd only given me one of the two sauces I ordered it with, so I had to go ask for more sauce (I know that's a dumb Yelp-y complaint, but considering everything else, I had to add it to the list!)
5.) When I picked up the pita to take my first bite, it completely fell apart. Not even close to structurally stable. I ate it all with a fork.
6.) Eventually, I ate it. And here's the rub: It was quite good. I did the "traffic light" special, with three different kinds of falafel: Regular, Indian spiced, and beet. The Indian tasted a little odd, but I blame my own immature Indian palette. The regular, and the beet in particular, were quite good.

So that was my trip to Foxy Falafel. Maddeningly frustrating, and I was having a bad day to begin with. I might go back eventually, but for now I might just need to keep my distance.

05.22.2015 - by Steve
Busters - South Minneapolis
Jalepeno burger
I finally got back to the "new" Busters, and I'm proud to report their food is no longer dripping with grease! In fact they've done a 180 and just served me the driest burger on the driest bun I've ever had the pleasure of sad-eating.

(1)
05.10.2015 - by Steve
Nighthawks - South Minneapolis
French dip sandwich, chocolate pie
(Post redacted. Me and Nighthawks need to hug it out.)
05.09.2015 - by Steve
Peppers & Fries - South Minneapolis
Pork burrito
Peppers & Fries gets a pass in my book because they have TVs that play sports and they serve burritos. This is a surprisingly rare combination. Beyond that, they need to get their burrito act together. It looks great at first, doesn't it? And the first bite is even okay. But once you dig in, you run into some classic burrito problems: Too many beans, unmelted cheese, not terribly flavorful. The pulled pork tasted almost like really thick chili. Which isn't bad necessarily, just kind of underwhelming in a burrito. The worst part though: No salsa! There's not hot sauce or salsa to be found in this place! It's called "Peppers & Fries!" I have plenty of fries, but where are the peppers? Such an odd and unforgivable oversight. Hugely underwhelming and disappointing. But goddammit they have sports on TV.

(2)
05.09.2015 - by Steve
Ngon Bistro - St. Paul
Beef pho
My pithy (and apt!) description of Ngon Bistro is that it's the Craftsman if the Craftsman was a Vietnamese restaurant. I really mean that in the best way possible. It's a "high end" Vietnamese-French "fusion" restaurant, though I put both of those terms in scare quotes very purposefully. It's high end only in that it's a nicer space than most hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joints, and you could pay a few dozen bucks for your meal if you chose to do so. And it's fusion only in that they serve a combination of Vietnamese and French food, even though Vietnam does have a history of French occupation, so really French food is already a part of some Vietnamese cuisine. But like the Craftsman, there's something very unfussy about the place; it's not trying to be cool, there's no pretense. It's just quality all around. I had the beef sirloin pho. It was some of the better pho I've had anywhere, although there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. I also had a fried rabbit dumpling, which did have a French influence in its creamy (buttery?) curry sauce. I couldn't get what I really wanted from the menu, because they've apparently been swamped on weekends lately thanks to some positive press. Good for them. Seriously.