Laura Marling
Semper Femina
Laura Marling is very, very good. Her album is produced by Blake Mills, who is also very very good. But I worry that Blake Mills turned this Laura Marling album a little too much into a Blake Mills album. Kind of like what he did with the Alabama Shakes. Except I ended up really enjoying that Alabama Shakes album, and I'm already starting to really enjoy this Laura Marling album, because Laura Marling is very, very good.
Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy's Demo
Music is so weird in 2017. Here's this guy, Steve Lacy. He's 19 years old. 19. Just out of high school. He apparently has some tangential connections to the eminently respectable Los Angeles jazz collective that centers around Thundercat and Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington (the collective who, as I see it, are one of the few music communities in the country right now who are really truly really doing something new and vital and real). He apparently also has connections to this group The Internet who I've mostly ignored since they appeared a few years ago. And this kid (he is nineteen) records a demo, supposedly entirely on his iPhone, and puts it up on SoundCloud. Within a week or two, Pitchfork has reviewed it (and gave it a realistically respectable 7.2), and it has received thousands and thousands of listens. And then I went on iTunes and paid $3.99 for it and am writing about it on my own music blog. This is the 15-minute demo tape of a 19 year old recorded on an iPhone. Nothing makes sense.

Except what does make sense is this dude's music. And it's not what I expected. This is not some 19 year old making trendy synthy electronic sampled GarageBand junk on his iPhone. This is fully live-instrumented, cleverly constructed pop-soul music. And it is very good. One track in particular, "Dark Red," is outstanding, and I can hardly believe a 19 year old wrote it. A nice cycling, walking chord progression, understated but confident vocal melodies, good but not flashy instrumental work. If this reminds me of anything, it's Cody Chesnutt's Headphone Masterpiece, an equally rough-but-exciting piece of bedroom recorded poppy soul music. But where that was a 2-disc batshit journey through the mind of a hermit genius, this is really nothing more or less than what its title implies: Steve Lacy's Demo. It's 15 minutes, 6 tracks, a couple under 2 minutes long, 1 of them almost unlistenably bad, 1 of them transcendently good, and the rest absolutely respectable enough for me to get really, really excited about what this Steve Lacey kid might do when he records with something other than a goddamn iPhone.

The Shins
I don't know what to do with this new Shins album, and I don't know what to do with the Shins. I keep waiting for them to release something that even approaches Oh Inverted World, and I just keep waiting, and then I realize I've been waiting for 16 years. It's not going to happen. And yet they've managed not to go full-Weezer (aka full-Simpsons) and release a bunch of embarrassing garbage. Everything they've done has had an air of quality. But I just do... not... care... anymore. But I'll go out and buy their next one anyway and go through this all again.
Last Place
This is probably Grandaddy's least great album. But I've still listened to it about 6 times since Friday.
Xiu Xiu
Xiu Xiu has been in a state of diminishing returns for damn near 8 years now. Women as Lovers was their last great album in my opinion, and since then it feels like they had that point that bands hit where they're just too good at doing the thing they do. The surprise disappears, the wonder disappears, they rely too much on what works. At first I was excited about Forget being a fresh exciting return to form, but the more I listen to it, it's more like, "Yep, sounds like Xiu Xiu." Which is a bummer, but also, I don't know. They've been around for a long time now. They've released some amazing music. And in between these official albums, they're definitely doing some interesting, cool projects. So, basically, I do like this one better than Always and Dear God I Hate Myself and whatever that other one was called. But still, certainly seems like they peaked.
Ryan Adams
I generally haven't been a big fan of Ryan Adams' music. I definitely haven't been a big fan of Ryan Adams' personality. But I have to say I'm really, really into this new one. It's big but it's personal, tongue-in-cheek maybe, but no more than nearly everything he does is tongue-in-cheek in one way or another. But it does lead me—along with some of the later-era Fleetwood Mac I've been listening to lately—to one major conclusion about the state of today's music trends (as if I hadn't already come to enough conclusions on those). It's that everybody in the last couple years has been digging into the 80s, grabbing the synth sounds and the wet drums and the gauche of it all, but they're missing the romanticism of it, the grace. But that's what Prisoner seems to get right. There are subtleties to the arrangements, and Adams seems to know when it's about to go too far into parody or irony and pulls it back. But on top of it all, it's still a Ryan Adams album, with admittedly great Ryan Adams songwriting and vocals (I've never liked the guy, but I have to admit he knows what he's doing), that pulls all of the right 80s influences off the record shelf. Granted, unlike most everyone else going for this sort of sound, Adams probably actually listened to this stuff growing up and actually has the right records to pull.
Fleetwood Mac
Tango in the Night
I'm not saying that Fleetwood Mac doesn't get the credit they deserve—they're one of the biggest bands to ever not be the Beatles—but I am saying they don't not not get the credit they deserve.
Here's a weird one. Banana is the name of the group (and album [and every song on the album]) made up of Cate Le Bon's touring band—who indie music writers like to confoundingly point also includes a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers—and Cate Le Bon herself, who in between shows and tours and recordings, got together and recorded this 4-track album of Steve Reich and Mike Oldfield inspired instrumental improvisations. Of course, when I say "Steve Reich and Mike Oldfield inspired instrumental improvisations," you probably start to roll your eyes and feel some anticipatory boredom. Thing is, if you've listened to Cate Le Bon's music, you know her band is fun. Fun and talented and a little goofy and fearless. So yeah, the tracks here (titled "Banana A", "Banana B," etc.) have a whiff of Reichian formality to them. But they also have some raunchy barry sax. It's all fun and melodic and pleasant, and look, it's 4 tracks; it's a quick listen, and I actually wish there was more of it.
I think this Sampha guy is the real deal. He's been slowly making a name for himself in more of a behind-the-scenes and collaborator role with some of the big gun Kanye/Beyonce types in the last couple years, but then (for those of us not paying close attention to who collaborates with those big guns) out of nowhere, he releases this single, "No One Knows Me Like The Piano," and you're like, "Hmm, this should be bad, but it's good." It's real songwriter shit. It's somebody, in 2017, sitting down at a piano and writing a song. I'm sure we'll all be sick of it a year from now, but at the moment it's so refreshing to hear. Also refreshing: This whole album is just as good. Okay, maybe not just as good. But for a mainstream pop (with a little bit of soul) artist, it's almost shocking to hear a collection of songs, written with a single voice, seemingly produced by a single producer, and free of any guest spots and collaborations. Which is a half-assed compliment to give something if the actual music wasn't good, but hey, it is! Vocally, he's basically doing James Blake, but with a little more energy here or there. But before I get too critical about the comparison, I'll note that I've already listened to this album more in one week than I listened to any of James Blake's last 3 albums in the last 5 years. The songs are just better. The energy is higher. It hooks. I do wish he'd take his voice to some different places; he never really goes for it. I also dock it a point or two because the second half of the record doesn't have the immediacy of the first half (which is basically perfection), and it closes with a half-baked Bon Iver knockoff, but whatever. It's good. Real good. Now I'm just going to hope he doesn't become super famous and annoying.
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
If you know Chris Thile and you know Brad Mehldau, you'll know that a Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau album is going to be a very good album. You probably don't even really need to listen to it. It's in your head right now. It's right there. Hear it? Pretty nice, right? Very nice even. You know this album isn't going to be bad, it's not going to be a bust. You will not be disappointed. Or rather, you might be disappointed, only if your hope is that it exceeds your hopes and transcends the obvious greatness of a Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau collaboration into something timelessly stunning. Which, as far as my initial listen is concerned, it does not do. And I'm not even sure it's trying to. It is, simply, Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau hanging out in a recording studio playing music with each other. And as you know, this is great.

Once and Future Band
Once and Future Band
Do you like early Yes? Do you like early ELO? Do you like Animals era Floyd? Do you like Lamb Lies Down era Genesis? You know who else does? Once and Future Band. And they're not just unafraid to admit it, they fucking revel in it. And not only do they fucking revel in it, they do it so well that you'll seriously think you're listening to the greatest unreleased prog pop album of the mid 70s.

A band like The Darkness does 70s and 80s glam rock and power metal, but there's enough borderline-irony there that it feels modern. Belle & Sebastian do Nick Drake and Nico, but filtered through decades of literary punk, grunge, and indie ethos. Joey Bada$$ does early 90s boom bap, but there's no confusing it with the real thing. But Once and Future Band are something else. They don't try to look the part (find a clip of of their live shows, they look very much like a modern bearded indie band), but everything about their sound is of the era. It's as if they've played the last 15 years as a Yes/Genesis tribute band, honing their chops at bars and state fairs around the country, then took what they learned and put it into their own songs. And aside from being good, maybe even great, songs, they somehow take this stew of influences and make it their own. There's no points where you say, Oh now they're being Genesis, Oh now they're being ELO, oh now they're playing "Welcome To The Machine". As obvious as their influences are, they've truly been distilled here. It's a pretty amazing thing to hear. And super fun.

Sheer Mag
Compilation LP
Sheer Mag caught my attention from a solely aesthetic perspective. Here's this band with a name and logo that screams Darkness-style 70s glam rawk, but who's album covers look like scary underground black metal releases. In reality the black metal cloak and dagger is a bit of a bluff, because the music here is pure Thin Lizzy inspired balls-out guitar boogie, recorded in a washed-out, peaking lo-fi scuzz. Their first few singles were hit-and-miss for me, so I mostly spent the year waiting for them to release a full length. And this isn't it exactly, but it's a compilation of those 3 EP's. Which is fine by me, actually, because really, all 3 of them are pretty much total quality. There's not a lot of stylistic variation or experimentation here, but that's less important than this: These songs are great. Forget the black metal covers, forget the cool logo, forget the unnecessary lo-fi recording. This is a band of legitimately talented musicians playing real good rock music. In particular, take note of "Fan The Flames," which is one of those This is so good I don't know if they ever need to release another song singles, and one where their entire "real" debut album will depend on whether or not they can match it. If they can, holy shit, these guys are going to be the real deal.
The Flaming Lips
Oczy Mlody
After—good lord—a whole decade of mediocre official releases, well-intentioned but borderline unplayable official releases, and a nearly countless number of unofficial side project collaborations and experiments, this new Oczy Mlody has been hailed as some sort of return to form, "the next Soft Bulletin" even. It is not. It's just boring.
03.22.2017 - by Steve
Gino's - Northeast Minneapolis
Chicken parm
Gino's is a minor miracle. It's a small and unfussy new restaurant and bar in Northeast that specializes in chicken parm and meatballs and lasagna and basic dumb hearty red sauce, refreshingly free of irony, hype, and affectation—there's no mention of "farm to table" ingredients, there's no menu of house-distilled sambuca, there's no menu item that's "a new take" on anything—it's just some delicious damn Italian food in a relaxed bar environment at a decent price. I'm so happy this place exists.

So what I ate (if you're curious) is I got the chicken parm, with a side of spaghetti and a side of broccolini. The parm itself was damn near perfect, fried and crispy and cheesy and plentiful. The spaghetti was good, but served a little oddly; it was in a little cup over to the side of the chicken, like how you'd get a side of beans at a barbecue place. Weird, but hey, whatever. But for as good as the parm and the red sauce were, the broccolini, to my surprise, was actually the highlight of the meal. It was pan fried in some garlic butter, and then finished with a small handful of pickled red pepper, basically juiced right into the pan. It was the mostly intensely flavorful broccoli I've ever had. Super delicious.

The problem, however, is twofold, and contradictory. 1.) I was only person there. Well, after two others left at least. But the point is, Gino's is new and great, but it's not doing business. On one hand, this is great, because it's usually damn-near impossible to get a table at a new restaurant in this town without going through annoying hoops and fighting with a hundred other cool people trying to go there before all their friends. On the other, of course, is that an empty restaurant usually turns into a closed restaurant very quickly. So, hey, people, go to Gino's! 2.) It's apparently owned by the people behind The Lyndale Tap. Which makes me think it's very much setting itself up to open more locations around the suburbs eventually. Which isn't inherently bad, but admit it, it's a little annoying. So for now, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of Gino's Parm before it turns in to the next Buca di Beppo. Join me!

03.20.2017 - by Steve
Piada - Bloomington
Steak piada
I don't remember what my exact thoughts were about Piada, since I ate there a few weeks ago and forgot to Music & Food it, but I do remember this: For a Mall of America food court restaurant offering "Italian street food" (which basically amounted to an Italian burrito), this was way more tasty than it had any right to be. I can't speak for their pastas or anything else, but these "piadas" easily get my "well if you're in a food court you certainly could do worse" recommendation.
03.05.2017 - by Steve
$5 Mr. Large Burger - Forest Lake
Amigo burger
I ended up at $5 Mr. Large Burger because I wanted to get lunch at $6 Mr. Large Burrito. This is not a joke. This is reality. They're basically the same place—very likely owned by the enterprising businessmen behind Mr. Pawn, which is right across the parking lot—except you have to order your burger at a different counter than you order your burrito. My burger had creamy chipotle sauce on it. Basically everything there has creamy chipotle sauce on it. And you get to choose between steak fries, skinny fries, and crinkle fries, except they're out of crinkle fries and skinny fries. And here's some crazy shit: If you get a fountain drink, they have Coke and Pepsi. Two separate machines. There's no way the state inspectors okayed that.

And so anyway, the burger actually was pretty good. Kind of like, Chilis or TGI Fridays good, but good. And the steak fries were delicious.

Oh, and all of the burgers are $6.

02.27.2017 - by Steve
Young Joni - Northeast Minneapolis
Pizza, ribs, bibim salad
I usually hate the word "pretentious" as a critique of a thing or a person or a place—it's too easy, too vague, and too often thrown out as a thoughtless deflection, a defense against having to think too hard or imagine art's possibilities. Calling things "pretentious" is how the good guys lose elections, and how Marvel movies break box office records. But still: Young Joni is fucking pretentious.

Young Joni is also fucking delicious. So you can see how I'm having a hard time working through my feelings here. But look. The front doors have hidden handles. You have to figure out how to open the doors. The hostesses in front need to basically show everybody how to get in. The bar is a secret bar. It's around the corner in a hidden door, with only a long red light to show you where it is. Why? Who knows. Inside, it's all bare wood, mid century chairs, and vintage dishware. They serve drinks in Peanuts and Looney Toons glasses. Why? Who knows. The drink menu is in an old photo album, featuring old photos. Of who? Who knows. And—excuse me for italicizing this, but it needs to be done—they play their music on a reel-to-reel. Jesus christ. And yeah, this might just be "quirky" rather than "pretentious," making use of old hi-fi technology. But according to the mustachio'd mixologist, all the music is downloaded digitally and given to a company in Chicago who takes the mixes and transfers it to reel-to-reel tape. This is literal pretension. There's nothing vintage about it. They just want to be the one restaurant in the city using a goddamn reel-to-reel player in their secret hidden bar. Good lord. We don't need this. Northeast doesn't need this. Nobody needs this. This isn't Chicago. This isn't Brooklyn. This is insanity.

But remember when I said it's fucking delicious? It is. Because (as you know, of course), Young Joni is run by the woman behind Pizzeria Lola, which I would say is not pretentious, and is maybe probably the best wood fired pizza in town. So behind all the vintage glasses and reel-to-reels and million dollar interior design buildout, Young Joni is basically Lola with an expanded, Asian-focused (rather than Italian) menu. And since you've had Lola's Korean short rib pizza, you know what you're in for. So what I had was the spare ribs—delicious, but not quite as good as the best legit barbecue ribs in town—the Korean short ribs—a happy accident that the waitress accidentally brought to the table, and were absolutely fantastic—a bibim grain salad—which was basically a cold, vegetarian bibimbap bowl and was delightful—and best of all: the Parisian pizza. I'm not sure if Lola serves the Parisian, but it's basically prosciutto, caramelized onion, pickled mustard seed, and arugula. It was honestly one of the best pizzas I've had in a long time. Right up there with Lola's Korean pizza, maybe even better. Nothing too crazy about its flavors, but just a nice, perfectly balanced concoction. So, yeah, as far as the food goes, I'm all in on Young Joni. It's completely wonderful. I just... it's like... can we not with all the bullshit?

02.27.2017 - by Steve
Bad Waitress - Northeast Minneapolis
Bad Waitress? Um, more like Bad Restaurant.
02.12.2017 - by Steve
Shake Shack - Bloomington
Chicken sandwich
I wrote about Shake Shack a couple months ago, and my general opinion on their burger was something like, "Well, I mean, it's good, but is that it?" But on the recommendation of a NYC insider source I have, I tried their chicken sandwich. And here's what's up you guys: this might be the best fast food chicken sandwich in the game. It's flawless. It's a real chicken breast that's been marinated or brined or something, and then battered right there in house, and fried perfectly, and topped with some pickles and some kinda aoli. Not too crazy, not too bland. I know they're famous for their burgers or whatever, but this chicken sandwich is good enough to start a megahyped fast food chain of its own.
02.08.2017 - by Steve
Crescent Moon Bakery - Northeast Minneapolis
I think I've written about Crescent Moon on here before, probably years ago. So, so many years ago. But I just had to chime in about it once more here, because I can't stress it enough: Crescent Moon, the Afghan bakery on Central, makes fantastic pizza. They also make fantastic kebabs and goat curries. It's really one of the most interesting food places we have in this city.
02.05.2017 - by Steve
1029 Bar - Northeast Minneapolis
Lobster roll
The Smack Shack downtown is very annoying, and you should not go there. It's basically like if you dropped a harbor-side Boston tourist trap restaurant-theme-park in the middle of Minneapolis and filled it with every young Target executive trying to find a happy hour close to his new condo and every bachelorette party who was too late in getting reservations to Chino Latino. Which is unfortunate, because their lobster rolls are pretty good. Well lucky for you there's the 1029 Bar! Because—and this isn't so much a secret as it is something people just don't really know—the Smack Shack sells lobster rolls at the 1029! Not just lobster rolls, either, but basically their full menu. I don't really understand why this is the case, but I'm not going to think too hard about it. Point is, it's a decent-to-good neighborhood bar, where you can get a good-to-very-good lobster roll (which may or may not be a little too salty), and you don't feel like a douchebag for eating there.
02.02.2017 - by Steve
Cali's Vietnamese - Northeast Minneapolis
Cali's is an okay Vietnamese restaurant that's a block away from me. And that's pretty much it.
02.01.2017 - by Steve
Spitz - Northeast Minneapolis
Spitz is the worst restaurant in the city. I'd usually try to give a place the benefit of the doubt, or at least try to be level-headed thoughtful about how I respond to a bad restaurant experience, but I don't know. I think this is a special case.

First of all, it's called "Spitz." That's disgusting. Nobody wants to eat at a place called Spitz. Secondly, they describe themselves as "Mediterranean Street Food," which, I mean, would be cool if they were, but they basically sell gyros and fries. And then you have the interior design decisions. Which I'd describe as "Avril Lavigne chic." Just the gaudiest faux-punk rock dripping-neon-paint nonsense this side of Target's teen girl section. There's a full wall-sized photo of Kurt Cobain crowd surfing, for fuck's sake. Kurt Cobain. There's just no rhyme or reason for any of it.

But that's all secondary, right? We're here for the food, right? Well my gyro (they don't call it a gyro, they call it a "Berlin style" something or another, which, Fuck You) tasted like nothing, and was cold. The dipping sauce with the fries tasted like nothing. The fries were Aramark's special "beer battered" style I assume, and tasted like such. The whole place basically made me sad, and further makes me sad when I consider that Spitz is basically the symbol of what is happening to Northeast.

Spitz sucks.

12.15.2016 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2016 - South Minneapolis
A List
Just for clarification, I base the items on this list more by 'meal' than by 'establishment,' and more on 'pure satisfaction' rather than 'quality.' Like, if I had a really great and satisfying piece of chicken at Popeye's, I'm going to go ahead and throw that on here, even if it's junk. So the items here and their placement have more to do with how much I simply enjoyed one meal at one place than what I think of the place in general, or if I think one might be technically better than the other. Like, obviously Revival is of higher quality than L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, but whatever. On with the show!

1. Juniper (Boise, ID)- Maple bacon sweet roll, mole huevos rancheros
2. Hi Lo Diner - Chicken wings and pancakes
3. Spoon & Stable - Grilled venison
4. TIE - L&L Hawiian Barbecue (Honolulu, HI) - Plate lunch
4. TIE - Cafe 100 (Hilo, HI) - Moco Loco
5. Revival - Roasted pork
6. French Hen Cafe - Banh mi benedict
7. World Street Kitchen - Beef shawarma tacos
8. Lu’s - Pork banh mi
9. Koja Kitchen (Berkeley, CA) - Korean short rib bowl
10. El Farolito (San Francisco, CA) - Al pastor burrito
11. Bibuta - Sushi burrito
12. Surly Brewing Co. - Cornbread
13. Red Stag - Limousine burger

12.06.2016 - by Steve
Spoon & Stable - Downtown Minneapolis
Grilled venison, beet cured trout, goat goulash
The cycle continues, and Spoon & Stable is now the "best" restaurant in the city, which mostly means it's the newest restaurant in the city to charge premium prices for premium food in a premium setting filled with premium people, and all of your Facebook friends talk about going there like it's no big deal because they just like good things, so of course they love it, duh, and oh, you've probably been there too because it's the best restaurant in the city, and you need your friends to know that you're good too. So Spoon & Stable. What does that even mean, spoon and stable? Are we eating horse soup? This getting away from me, I'm going to regroup...

So I went to Spoon & Stable by myself on my birthday, because I deserve it. I think? It's been a long time since I've been to a "good" restaurant, and I didn't have any other plans, so I just said Screw It, I'm gonna go and sit at the bar throw down 100 bucks on a ridiculous dinner. Usually in these cases I'd try my best to be careful and thoughtful about my choices, or maybe I'd actually be there with another human to be able to split and try things. But nah, I just went for it. Here's the rundown: Beet-cured trout, served kinda like lox, with some citrus and beets and other assorted nibbles... Grilled venison with malted jus and some kinda puree over a big fat celery root... Goat goulash pasta. The food itself (not the surroundings) reminded me of the 112. Favorably even! Which was a pleasant surprise; the cynic in me half expected to hate it, given its bound-to-come-back-down-to-earth-in-time reputation. But nah, it was good. In fact, the venison was one of the best dishes I've had anywhere in a long time. It's one of those entrees that you've had a dozen times before—quality piece of meat atop some starchy puree with some deglazed pan sauce and a some greens—but this was pretty much flawless. Every bite of the meat was lean and perfect, and the sauce had a deep rich body that came as a surprise. If I had any gripes (other than the fact that I don't love celery, so the celery root wasn't exactly my favorite), it's that the whole dish was so richly savory that it needed an extra stab of something else. Some little sweet or vinegary burst somewhere. But really it was fantastic. The beet trout, I won't blab much about, because I don't have much to say about it. It had that deconstructed Travail sort of vibe, without the Travail surprises. But it was fine. So then after ate those, I tallied the damage and decided that I'd be wasting a birthday dinner if I didn't get one more dish. Which of course was the goat goulash, because of course I'm going to order the goat goulash. If I'd never been to the 112 or La Grassa before (or the late lamented JP's) I would've sworn this was an incredible plate of food. But in truth it just made me wish I was eating the comparable—and slightly better—pastas at 112 and La Grassa. But whatever. It was still delicious!

Oh, and I also made the mistake (?) of mentioning to the bartender that it was my birthday. Because as I was paying up, he brought me an embarrassingly large ball of cotton candy. It was the Uptown Cafeteria Pork Rind Incident all over again. Everybody stared at me. People commented under their breath. I literally died. But I also shared some with the rest of the bar, so I guess I made some friends. And isn't that what it's all about? No?