Steve's Favorites of 2014
A List

1. Adult Jazz - Gist Is
2. Blake Mills - Heigh Ho
3. Sun Kil Moon - Benji *
4. Courtney Barnett - A Sea of Split Peas **
5. Augie March - Havens Dumb
6. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
7. Mirah - Changing Light
8. D’Angelo - Black Messiah
9. Future Islands - Singles
10. Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt
11. Spoon - They Want My Soul
12. Mastodon - Once More Round the Sun
13. Beck - Morning Phase
14. Benji Hughes - oxoxoxoxox
15. Flying Lotus - You're Dead
16. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
17. Courageous Endeavors - Prototype
18. Pink Floyd - The Endless River ***
19. Nude Beach - 77
20. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

* If I was making this list solely on artistic achievement and emotional power, and pure quality, this would easily be #1. However, it's such a dark, emotional album that, frankly, it's hard to listen to unless you're in the mood for it. So for that reason, it's hard to be a "favorite." Still, #3 isn't bad.

** I know this is technically just a compilation of 3 EPs, which technically came out in Australia in 2013. I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, it's an album. And it was released in the USA this year, so deal with it.

*** Really.

1. The Both - “Milwaukee”
2. Courtney Barnett - “Avant Gardener” *
3. Courtney Barnett - “History Eraser” *
4. Courtney Barnett - “David” *
5. Morgan Delt - “Barbarian Kings”
6. Future Islands - “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
7. Beck - “Heart is a Drum”
8. Adult Jazz - “Am Gone”
9. Flying Lotus w/ Kendrick Lamar - "Never Catch Me"
10. Mastodon - “High Road”
11. St. Vincent - “Prince Johnny”
12. Ought - “Habit”
13. Sun Kil Moon - “Jim Wise”

* See footnote ** in the Albums section.
Black Messiah
This record is so fucking good.

Flying Lotus
You're Dead
About 5 minutes into this album, I experienced one of those beautiful but rare music moments where something so perfect happens, so surprising and satisfying, that I lose control. This happened near the beginning of track 5, "Never Catch Me," where, following a seamless series of introductory hip-hop-meets-IDM-meets-free-jazz-meets-70s-soul freakouts, fadeouts, false starts, false stops, and general psychadelic intrigue, a steady 4/4 boom-bap finally breaks through the atmosphere, and Kendrick Lamar starts fast rapping his Kendrick Lamar shit. It's a glorious moment, and it played me like a puppet, standing me up off the couch, raising my right arm in the air (as if I had something to do with it), and forcing a single syllable "hah!" out of me. I spent the next couple minutes laughing out of joy over the track, which was slowly melting back into prog-hop haze, and that was it. I was ready for Flying Lotus to kick my ass for the next half our. And while the rest of the record is all very interesting and well made, none of it got back to the perfection of these first 6 minutes.
Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Maybe I'm just cynical (hah!), but this just sounds like an underbaked Sharon Van Etten to me. If Sharon Van Etten didn't exist, or if I had never heard nor heard of Sharon Van Etten, I might like this record. This Angel Olsen character might be someone to look out for in the future. But everything about this, from the songwriting to the delivery to the arrangement and production is so derivatively S.V.E. (amongst other similarly moody/chanteusey female artists of the last 5 years), that every song is leaving me more agitated than the last. It's not bad, I just hate everything about it.

The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
While I'm impressed that the War on Drugs is able to capably and considerately pull off 1980s Tom Petty Electro Psych Chic, I need more from them. Very specifically, I think to pull off this music, you need a transcendent vocalist. Think Future Islands. I like the album, it's a nicely energetic listen, but the driving, pulsing background needs something more than a slightly-less-stoned Kurt Vile acolyte to hold my interest. (Kurt Vile, of course, is an original member of War on Drugs, and it's astonishing how similar his melodic and delivery tics are to this dude's). Their heart is in the right place, they're making lots of good choices, but unfortunately, there's no Samuel Herring walking through that door.

Pink Floyd
The Endless River
The best thing about The Endless River is how easy it is to listen to. I've done it 4 times now. All the way through. Front to back. Without skipping past any songs. Without rolling my eyes. Without making any audible groans. I'm just now hitting play on my 5th. Yet it's also perhaps the most uninteresting album Pink Floyd has ever made. Nothing happens on it. Well, until track 18. It's so dull. There are no melodies, hardly any chord progressions that make it to a 4th chord. Famously, there are no lyrics until the very last song. It's a solid hour of Pink Floyd stew, as if the band just set up in a studio, hit record, and jammed, while watching the Liverpool match on the telly, barely paying attention to what they were playing. Instead of creating melodies, moments, or passages, they seem to just play, tracing the patterns of the trail they've spent decades tramping. Like a lab mouse running through an empty room, but moving left and right in the pattern of the maze he'd run a thousand times. Here's something like "Welcome to the Machine." There's something like "One of these Days." All atop a bed of "Us and Them." But you know what? That's the best Pink Floyd! I love that Pink Floyd! I just wrote a post about it! So even though there's absolutely nothing on this album to grab on to, to remember, or to be the least bit passionate about, it's so nice to listen to! It's not even really a Pink Floyd album; it's a an ambient soundscape album of Pink Floyd Sounds. And then it gets to that last track, and Dave Gilmour's vocals final enter the picture, and it's actually pretty glorious. Kinda like "Eclipse." Remember that one?

Ty Segall
Is Ty Segall some sort of prank that's being played on me? Is he the outcome of some mass hallucination between music critics and bloggers? Is there information I'm not privy to? Was there a meeting? I don't get it. I put on Manipulator, or any of the dozen other albums he seems to release every month, and I hear scuzzy, partially psychedelic garage rock with just-barely-interesting chord progressions, and lifeless vocal melodies sung by a guy who is trying too hard to make it sound like he's not trying hard. It's B- music. It's better than nothing. But what am I missing? "Ty Segall" is spoken (typed) in hushed tones in most circles, used as a measuring stick for other competently uninteresting scuzz rockers who were once lucky enough to play on his records, or tour with him. He's the center of an entire scene, and I don't fucking get it.
Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here
Not that I'm complaining (me?), but I kinda wish Pink Floyd had released just one more album in between Dark Side and Animals. The silky smooth perfection of Wish You Were Here and Dark Side are essentially the sound of Pink Floyd as history has come to know them. And they're perfect albums, and I love them dearly. But really, it's just those two albums that represent their peak of perfection. Meddle is fantastic, but it marks the transition from their earlier periods of searching. And Animals is also fantastic, but it marks the beginning of their tumultuous discontent. Listening to Wish today, I realized I just want one more album of the dreamy, euphoric bliss that constituted those two. And I don't think their new one is going to cut it.
Pearl Jam
Riot Act
Riot Act is a lot better than I remember it being.

Augie March
Havens Dumb
Here we have another new Augie March album, their first after a five year hiatus, that doesn't even have a US release, and will basically be ignored by everyone outside of Australia, but that is a beautiful, lovely, charming, accomplished piece of music making. It's not their best, and it does feel a bit like it's Augie March on auto-pilot, but these guys—well, their singer and songwriter Glenn Richards anyway—are so good at what they do that even their auto-pilot is worth at least a solid 8 for those of us keeping score.

Blake Mills
Heigh Ho
This is a very nice, moody, earthy-yet-unearthly little "Americana" album by a guy who has Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, and Fiona Apple on his team. You can imagine how this is of interest to me. I was surprised to find out Blake Mills had nothing (or little) to do with Fiona's The Idler Wheel, as the production here shares a lot in common with that record; everything is organic, dark, mysterious, and even though it's loaded with studio trickery, none of it is synthetic. Rambling nylon string guitars give way to booming analog-distorted drums give way to droning organs give way to psychedelic guitar heroism. The songwriting is a little more vague, with hints of modern folky junk like the Avett Brothers or Ray Lamontagne, but owes perhaps more to the self-aware melodicism of an Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe. Total class, really. If there's any downside, it's just difficult to latch on to any of it. "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me" is the made-for-The-Current hit single, and deservedly so, but the rest of the album is slow, low, and just atmospheric enough that you're never quite sure what it's up to, or where it's going. But that just leaves you coming back for more.

Nude Beach
I'm currently 16 tracks deep into this 19 track album of Tom-Petty-meets-Ted-Leo, tasteful-yet-edgy Brooklyn guitar pop, yet I couldn't hum you a single melody or quote you a single lyric from the preceding 15. I want so badly to like this, it has so much potential, but it's just spread too thin. Although the very fact that I've made it 16 tracks in, without turning it off out of boredom, frustration, or exhaustion, says a lot about how listenable it is, despite its lack of personality.

The Rolling Stones
Beggars Banquet
I think Beggars Banquet is the Rolling Stones album for me.

12.21.2014 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2014 - South Minneapolis
A List

1. Little Red Market Cafe - Duck Breast
2. Stockholm Pie Company - Pecan pie
3. Eat Street Social - Smoked pork chop
4. Hola Arepa - Shredded beef arepa
5. Sunshine Kitchen - Sweet and spicy burger
6. Bayport Barbecue - Barbecue
7. Rabbit Hole - Korean brisket fried rice
8. Kramarczuk's - Cabbage roll
9. Sea Salt - Shrimp posole
10. Butcher and the Boar - Target Field rib tips
11. Lake & Irving - Pulled pork sandwich

A side note. As this year was a particularly interesting one for me, for many reasons, I feel like I didn't really get out there to lots of new or good restaurants. So this list feels a little bit bland. Nothing too crazy or exciting. But it's the stuff I liked of what I had! If you want more excitement in next year's list, I'll happily accept financial contributions to the Steve Eats At Better Restaurants Fund. I'll post a link soon.
12.16.2014 - by Steve
The Rabbit Hole - South Minneapolis
Korean brisket fried rice
About a year ago, the Left Handed Cook shut down their measly food court operation to open up a full-service restaurant in the Midtown Global Market, The Rabbit Hole. God knows why it's taken me this long to make it to there, because the Left Handed Cook was, from day one, perhaps the best food spot in the Global Market. It was, at the very least, neck-and-neck with Sonora Grill. I'm happy to report that the Rabbit Hole carries over most of LHC's menu items, from bibimbap bowls to the amazing Korean curry poutine, and 21-spice fried chicken strips. I'm less happy to report, however, that despite the new sit down digs and larger kitchen, they haven't added much to the menu. I was expecting more entrees, specials, and some mindblowing new Korea-via-Los-Angeles surprises. But there's not much; a few burgers (which look amazing), a pork something, a fish something, but that's about it. I don't think I'm complaining, though. I'm not complaining, am I? No. I'm not. Because the food is still awesome, the interior is very cozy (nothing but private booths!), and its food is unlike anywhere else in the city. Recommended!
12.13.2014 - by Steve
Bogart's Doughnut Co. - South Minneapolis
In the rush to create some sort of post-ironic, industrial-minimalist, Instagram-ready, food-blog-friendly millennial donut shop, it seems that Bogart's forgot that you can't fill a donut with earnestness alone.
12.13.2014 - by Steve
Godfather's Pizza - Burnsville
Pizza buffet
I hate myself.

12.10.2014 - by Steve
Freddy's - Savage
Bacon cheeseburger
I hadn't heard of it until I drove past it tonight, but apparently Freddy's is kind of a big deal. Or at least it would like us to think it is. A small regional favorite, from Kansas or some such place, Freddy's is dying to grab some market share from people who think Culver's is just too dang fancy, using some of that "Hey, we just make tasty burgers like the olden days, man!" goodwill that Five Guys has sewn over the last few years. If you can handle salt overload, It mostly works. It's a near-Culver's-quality burger without Culver's extended menu (or root beer). It's Five Guy's simplicity without Five Guy's endorphin-spewing tastiness (or hand-cut fries). But to say it's not as good as those two places isn't that much of an insult, considering they offer perhaps the best fast food burgers in the midwest. On the plus side, Freddy's burgers do feature extra large pickle slices, so that's something.
12.10.2014 - by Steve
Bronco's - Anoka
Roast beef sandwich
The two establishments are unrelated, but Bronco's, from the menu to the name to the corny horse decor, is remarkably similar to Maverick's in Roseville. Most similar of all is the empty sense of disappointment you feel upon eating their roast beef, which you think should be great, and isn't not great, but you actually forget you're eating it while you're eating it. I'll give Maverick's a bit of the edge on their roast beef. But Bronco's also has homemade donuts. So let's call it a draw, and just go to Q Fanatic instead.
12.10.2014 - by Steve
Eat Street Social - Uptown Minneapolis
Smoked pork chop
My brother's wedding was held this weekend, and for the big fancy rehearsal dinner, we (perhaps on my nudge-nudge recommendation) brought a big group into a private room at Eat Street Social. It obviously wasn't a standard dining experience, with a crew of 20+ and a small prix fixe menu for such an event, so I won't get too much into detail. But here's the gist of it—Mixed greens: dull. Curry pumpkin soup: interesting, but too rich and strong to have an entire bowl of. Fried calamari: as goodas it's supposed to be. Cranberry thyme sausage: Really, really good. Smoked pork chops with white bean carbonara and ratatouille: Really, really, really good. One of the best entrees I've eaten all year. And the portions were surprisingly big. After the desert of pretzel bread pudding, me and everyone else were about ready keel over. Overall, I think I really like this place. I should go back again under less unique circumstances.
11.26.2014 - by Steve
Public - St. Paul
We've done it. We've reached the Restaurant Singularity. The Monoraunt. Critical Restaurant. Every new restaurant is every other new restaurant, and Public is the event horizon. Public. What is that? What does that mean? Who is it for? The menu. What are you doing? Comfort food? Haute cuisine? Bar food? American? Italian? What is that art on the walls? Why is your printed menu clipped to a specialty clipboard that has clearly been created solely to clip haute American comfort food restaurant menus on to. The logo. Plain black letters. "PUBLIC kitchen + bar." Why should I care about this? The ribs were braised rather than smoked, which is totally fine, but I could get better a few train stops away at Big Daddy's. The jo jos were seasoned with what seemed like the same "cajun" seasoning you'd get at most bars. The sauce was somewhere between Italian and Mexican, sweet and spicy, but afraid of... being. Still, it was exactly as good as it had to be to not get bad online reviews, which seems to be exactly part of the plan of someone who would name their investment restaurant "Public."
11.23.2014 - by Steve
Hen House - Downtown Minneapolis
Biscuits and gravy
I wanted to make this post a eulogy for Peter's Grill, Minneapolis' only truly historic diner, which shut down and is now Hen House. However, that would have been disingenuous, because I only ever at at Peter's once, and felt the food was truly uninspiring, no matter how historic it was. So as much as I hate that it closed, I was part of the problem. But now we have Hen House, which at least kept a lot of Peter's cool old style booths and counter. They also kept Peter's uninspiring food. It's really just standard, slightly-better-than-Perkins breakfast food. You could get the exact same quality of meal literally two blocks away at Key's (where, I was not surprised to learn, Hen House's ownership began their food careers). That space deserves better.
11.23.2014 - by Steve
Digby's - Roseville
I was surprised (pleasantly!) to learn that this big new Rosedale Mall megarestaurant is actually a locally owned, nearly one-off place! Good for Rosedale! After eating there, though, I was surprised (unpleasantly!) that this locally owned, nearly one-off place was so, so boring. Just the most unimaginative, ordinary sports bar and pizza offerings that a restaurant could possibly have. TGI F-ing Friday's has a more interesting menu. Seriously. And worst of all, TGI F-ing Friday's food is just as good. There was nothing at all special about my burger, my fries, or my chili (which I think might have been made by adding some spices and beef and beans to their marinara sauce). None of it was bad, it was just completely and regrettably mundane, and gives the entire concept of locally owned and operated restaurants a bad name to mall goers who would be better off going to the Ruby Tuesday's on the other side of the mall. What a waste.
11.16.2014 - by Steve
Lake & Irving - Uptown Minneapolis
Pulled pork sandwich
Lake & Irving is somewhat invisible, hidden away from the Uptown suck-hole, down Lake street (and Irving, clearly), across the street from Barbette. But it's the best kind of invisible. It's not huge. It's not loud. It's not full of Uptown party girls. It has no "theme." It doesn't have a quirky old woodcut image painted huge on its wall. It doesn't have a bar made from reclaimed fishing boats. It doesn't have a tasteful shelf of mounted rodent skulls in bell jars. It doesn't have a wall of TVs or posters advertising Summit 2-for-1s. It's "just" a restaurant. But my food was delicious, the service was super pleasant, the prices were reasonable, and it was lit well enough to be able to read my book at the bar. This is all that I want! I'm actually kind of astounded that this place is allowed to exist within the boundaries of Uptown. And I hope it sticks around for a while, but I worry its potential audience (reasonable people with taste) have been scared off from that neighborhood permanently.

11.12.2014 - by Steve
Dilla Ethiopian Restaurant - U of M
Siga wat
I feel like Ethiopian food might be one of the most "foreign" cuisines to us Americans. Not-quite-familiar flavor profiles that never taste like what you expect them to taste like. Stewed mushy mystery vegetables. That weird flatbread you use instead of silverware that always feels moist. It's a perfect cuisine for white person awkwardness and food fear. But I like it! Mostly. I think?

11.12.2014 - by Steve
Runyon's - Downtown Minneapolis
In the words of Iowa's own Andrew Voss: "The great thing about Runyon's is..." And, well, I don't remember the rest of what he said. But he was right. There's a great thing about Runyon's, but it's so inconspicuous as to be practically invisible in downtown's obnoxious bar scene. But Runyon's is just a humble little (not quite) dive bar, with a humble little menu of a few burgers and some wings and fries and beer. As far as greasy bar burgers go, theirs is one of the better one's I've had in town, especially with the horseradish cheddar cheese. The fries aren't hand cut, but they were perfectly fried. The wings were... wings. But if 'm ever looking for a quick bite downtown, you can bet your ass I'll be going back here instead of battling all the other nonsense down the street.
11.01.2014 - by Steve
Sweet Pea's - St. Paul
Beer cheese lucy
And here we have Sweet Pea's, a new-ish "public house" (it's a bar and grill, okay? A bar and grill) that took over Goby's old spot on Snelling & Randolph. I never went to Goby's. I'm sure it was great and will be missed. But Sweet Pea's. The self-proclaimed "Friendliest Pub in St. Paul." I guess it might be, maybe, sure, but the bartender seemed like he was kind of mad at his co workers. And it's cold when people open the front door. But I bet you want to hear about their food. Well, they're located smack dab in between the Nook and the Blue Door and O'Gara's, and their inferiority complex shows; their menu is basically a limited (but pleasantly limited) selection of juicy lucies and Irish pub favorites. There are some other burgers and sandwiches in there, too, but who cares. As far as their lucies are concerned, they hint at some of the interesting flavor combinations of the Blue Door, even going as far as ripping off the BD's Jiffy burger, but they don't go the distance. They do, however, offer one unique and seemingly essential idea to the lucy scene: the Beer Cheese lucy. Beer cheese soup right inside the burger. It works! It's basically like getting a regular cheese lucy, but it has that extra richness that the beer stock gives you. The burger itself, and the fries, didn't do much to surpass the Nook or Blue Door, though. I'd put it, and the establishment in general, right on par with the 5-8 Club. Smack dab in between every other burger offering in town. Respectable, but not inspiring.