Beach House
Depression Cherry
My relationship with Beach House is complicated. I like them. But I want them to do better. I know they can do better. Even though what they do is good. Depression Cherry is maybe building up to be my favorite of their records—I think? It's hard to draw a line between them sometimes. Their whole catalogue is basically one big gradient, from orange to salmon to pink; they're clearly in a different place now than they were 7 years ago, but I couldn't tell you how or when they got here. But it's all equally pretty and lovely and lovely and pretty. They really understand progressions and arrangement, and are slowly getting a handle on using vocal harmonies for movement rather than simply atmosphere. But what bugs me about this album in particular is the singer's unwillingness to truly unleash her voice. It's a truly powerful instrument she has, when she belts in her lower register, like Nico (or someone better than Nico). But she's constantly keeping it in check here, choosing instead to use a quieter, breathier head voice, that just doesn't have the same impact. A shame, yeah, but they've still made a(nother) totally listenable album with melodies that hook you out of nowhere, and just enough surprises to keep you from falling asleep.

Poison Season
Look, baseline Destroyer is total quality. Dude has some mystic aptitude that just makes everything he throws at the wall work. But after Kaputt, he's moved the baseline. And Poison Season is sitting right on it. Not a leap forward. Not a step backward. Not even a lateral tweak. Still. Total quality.
We're getting closer now. Real close. Whatever it is I've been searching for, I can almost reach it. It's not jazz, it's not electronica, it's not post-rock, but it's all of that. And no, it's not Tortoise. Though I'm sure these guys have probably played at least one show with Tortoise ten years ago. Ooh, this is so close. But it's not quite. Maybe 8 or 10 will be the miracle I'm hoping for.
Radiance and Submission
I don't much care for electronic music. The dance stuff is usually too dumb, the avant-garde stuff is too jerk-offy, and even the highly-regarded "smart" stuff generally leaves me expecting more. I've tried and tried over the years, and have never really found my sweet spot. In another recent plunge, however, I came upon this album by CFCF. And I like it—though I'd say it barely even qualifies as electronic music. CFCF himself is definitely an electronic artist—his previous records all have a bit of a minimalist dance vibe, a driving 4/4, all the usual hallmarks of whatever sub-sub-genre a music writer might prescribe to it—but Radiance and Submission is something different. It's pastoral and romantic, open and patient. It's closer in spirit to late-era Talk Talk or the quiet moments of Peter Gabriel's solo records than it is to something like Scrillo or Diplex or whoever the kids like this week.It's mostly instrumental (except for maybe 2-3 vocal tracks), and there are plenty of electronic elements (both digital and analogue), but it also incorporates plenty of acoustic guitar and piano and percussion elements. I'm not saying it's a great or perfect album, not at all. It feels almost like a stepping stone to something great, though. This guy behind CFCF gets it, and this record is full of mature choices, both in composition and production. The sad part, though, is that most of the reviews I've seen for it are pretty lukewarm. And that gets deep into my issue with music writing when it comes to the electronic music world: it's this ridiculously insular set of genres and subgenres and trends and rules, and it seems like albums and artists (sorry... "producers") get judged not on the quality of their music, but by how well they played by the specific rules of their chosen sub-genre, and if they maybe tweaked one little aspect of it (but not too many aspects!) to put them in the position of tastemaker rather than follower. Looking at it as an outsider, it strikes me as this horrible fashion contest. So then suddenly you get all of these people reviewing Radiance and Submission under the guidelines of some genre called "Night Bus" (not even kidding), and guess what? They don't like it! Well they're wrong. It's good. I'll be keeping my eye on CFCF for a little while, and hoping I can find at least one more "electronic" artist to add to my meager resume in the near future.
Chelsea Wolfe
You didn't even know you wanted to hear what it would sound like if Sharon Van Etten fronted a doom metal band, did you? (And then you heard "Iron Moon" and were like, Holy shit! And then you bought the album and were like, Oh, well at least "Iron Moon" is good.)
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.

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
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!

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.
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.)
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."
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.
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.

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.)
08.31.2015 - by Steve
Bump's - Glencoe
Hot Beef Commercial
Down around the Mankato area of southern Minnesota, in any number of mediocre diners and family restaurants, you'll suddenly start seeing a regional oddity appear on menus: the Hot Beef Commercial. "Wow, a rare local delicacy!" you'll say to yourself. And then you'll realize it's just roast beef on white bread covered in gravy. But, like, that sounds pretty good though, right? Yeah, it does.

So while I was on a fun little field trip down south to see the Jeffers Petroglyphs, my road home took me through charming (?) Glencoe, MN. A quick gauntlet-run through Yelp drew my attention to this place called Bump's, and their WCCO-appointed Best Hot Beef Commercial In Minnesota! Who am I to argue with the tastemakers at WCCO? So I found the place—not the old-school downtown diner I was hoping for, more like the early 80's cookie-cutter highwayside family restaurant where dreams and elderly bachelor farmers go to die. Of course it was packed at 5pm on a Saturday, and seemingly everyone was ordering some form of a gravy soaked Commercial, me included.

I'll give them this: Bump's seems to really make classic comfort food from scratch. That's sadly more than most places like this can offer. The photos in their menu all looked legitimately tasty, especially the breakfasts. And for the most part, this famous Commercial delivered on that. Particularly the gravy—and as you can see in the photo above, gravy makes up about 70% of this monstrosity. And it was tasty gravy, with little former beef chunks floating here and there. It was a little tame and 'traditional,' and heavy on the flour, whereas a good beef gravy at a fancy rest-a-raunt like the Modern (RIP) might lean towards a more rich, savory umami base. The mashed potatoes were also homemade, not from dried mix, but could've used a little more chunk. I like some chunk in my mashers. Quote me on that.

My only real complaint, although minor, comes with the beef itself. For claiming to be slow roasted in-house, the beef felt uncomfortably Aramark. I could be wrong. I'm not even saying for sure that it was. But I've had some good grandma-recipe roast beef in my day, and this was not it. It was a little dry, in thin slices, seemed to have been frozen at some point. It didn't have the mouth melting perfection of a great roast beef. And if your entire enterprise is based on roast beef, gravy, and bread, you better nail the roast beef.

Despite that nitpicking, I can't argue that this big plate of crud wasn't super fucking satisfying. I ate every bit of it. Could've licked the plate. No regrets. I don't think Bump's is necessarily some secret diamond in the rough, small town miracle. It's certainly a lot better than much of its competition, but that's not saying much. It's a solid step up from Country Kitchen. But you'll have to join me in in the coming months, through 2016, as I go on a new journey to find the true Best Hot Beef Commercial in Minnesota.

08.31.2015 - by Steve
McCoy's - St. Louis Park
Reuben, chili
Uh. Well. I don't know. Whatever.
08.31.2015 - by Steve
Skinners Pub - St. Paul
Steak sandwich
Skinner's Pub isn't great. Its food is probably just above average for a little corner dive. They don't seem to be "famous" for any particular menu item, like Matt's jucy lucy, or the 1029's lobster rolls. They've got pizza, because they seem to have merged with a pizza parlour at some point. They've got fried chicken, which is probably no worse than a decent grocery store deli fried chicken. But I love this place nonetheless, simply for its pure unhipness. It's a true neighborhood bar, in a quiet little corner of St. Paul, filled with true neighborhood bar types, a pinball machine, and a mediocre folk singer performing on the patio. It was even charming that 4 employees were battling to keep a river rat from coming in the back door. It was a real hoot. And I've had worse steak sandwiches.
08.07.2015 - by Steve
La Ceiba - South Minneapolis
Pollo Jamaiquino
And here, finally, we have a restaurant. A real honest-to-god restaurant. Not a "public house." Not a "eatery." Not a "hard cider brewpub and bacon room." It's a restaurant. (Okay, fine, it's a "bistro!") But look around, and there's no reclaimed barnwood. There's no antique meat grinders doubling as lighting fixtures. There's no white subway tile anywhere. They're not growing their own wild rice on the roof or pairing hot dogs with bourbon flights. It's just an honest neighborhood restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere, attentive staff, and delicious Caribbean food.

And now is the part where I tell you about how La Ceiba is a rebirth of what used to be El Mason, a locally-beloved establishment that I unfortunately never made it to before it closed. But I know that everybody loved El Mason, and were sad to see it go. But now everyone seems to love La Ceiba, and I totally get it. Funny thing is, the two items I had weren't even the best of their class; my little fried pastelillos, spicy beef and stuff in a green plantain batter, weren't quite as amazing as Sonora Grill's kinkhali. Their Jamaican chicken curry (pollo Jamaiquino) wasn't as good as a similar Caribbean curry from Harry Singh's. But both were absolutely respectable, and I ate every bite and had to stop myself from licking the plate and crying. To be honest, I think every menu item is maybe about $2 too expensive, but at this point I don't care. I'm so glad La Ceiba exists, and I hope it lasts as long as El Mason did, and I hope I get there for lunch at some point next week.

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, it's clear that their's is 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 it would probably do a killing one of the more urbane suburbs (other than Robbinsdale, which already has the far superior Pig Ate My Pizza). It's just not good enough for where it's at.

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
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.

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.

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.