09.24.2014
Sondre Lerche
Please
I read a blurb on a music site that claimed Please is finally Sondre Lerche's first complete "masterpiece." This excited me, as I've long seen Lerche as a musician and writer of huge potential, who has a couple great songs, and even more great moments scattered throughout okay songs, but who has yet to fully realize an "album," front to back. I am displeased, however, to find that Please is generally more of the same, but with some crazy noises and production tricks thrown into the mix. The only real excitement I've found on my first couple spins is the very end of the last song, "Logging Off," where an extended sax solo works through some cool interplay with some cut up audio of its parallel melody, melding some brash musicality and weirdness together unlike anything he's done before. But for this dude, it's all about the tunes, and there's nothing here that surpasses what he's done before.

(1)
09.24.2014
Teenage Fanclub
Bandwagonesque
Amazing that I spent years listening to KEXP all day every day at work, and never realized that every time they played a vaguely early-90s power pop song, it was most likely taken from this record.

(1)
09.19.2014
Jens Lekman
Night Falls Over Kortedala
Chalk another one up to I Can't Believe I've Been Ignoring This Guy For The Last 6 Years. No ignoring per say, just that I never bothered to sit down and listen to him. Everything I read sounded like something I might like, but maybe the quick clips I'd heard over time never interested me? I don't know! It's great! I love it! It's like if the Go Team and Sondre Lerche teamed up to do gentle, string-swept 60s and 70s pop pastiches, with a much happier Mark Kozalek writing lyrics. It's beautiful. And funny. And smart. Just like me!

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09.16.2014
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Real Emotional Trash
I bought Stephen Malkmus' first solo album back when it came out in 2001, and I loved it. I've loved it this entire time. Listen to it fairly often, too. Ya know what's weird though? He's put out five albums since that one, and I never bothered listening to any of them! Why? What else have I been doing? What the heck? I think because he released them with "& the Jicks" buttressing his own name, I assumed it was no longer a Stephen Malkmus thing. Like it was going to be loud punk rocky nonsense or something. Well I was wrong. Dumb and wrong. I've started digging into these things, and they're great! Really, I've only spent time with Pig Lib and Real Emotional Trash so far, but I can tell they're all equally great. Because they all pretty much sound like the same thing. But it's a good thing! Smart melodies. Guitar jams. It's goddamn Stephen Malkmus after all, what was I expecting? As a whole, I do like his first solo non-Jicks record better; it's so catchy and concise, where some of these Jicks tracks meander a little. And I like the final Pavement album even better than that (and honestly, I don't really like early Pavement all that much). But whatever. I'm almost glad I waited, because now I have a ton of this stuff to really dig into for the first time, and I think I'm really in a Malkmus-y point in my life right now.

(1)
09.05.2014
The New Pornographers
Brill Bruisers
Brill Bruisers has everything you could want in a New Pornographers record, yet I'm totally unmoved by it. I could almost put my finger on why their last couple albums bored me, but this one is different. It just rings hollow.
09.01.2014
Opeth
Pale Communion
Here are the words I've been fearing to write for the last decade, but I regret that I have no other choice: This new Opeth album is lame. That's all there is to it. They're back in Heritage mode, all-out prog, no death growl vocals, barely a single heavy metal indicator in sight. I'm fine with that. The problem is a complete lack of ideas. There's nothing to grab on to. It's all harmony, no melody. It's the same handful of themes recycled from Heritage, but without the excitement of being new that Heritage actually had. It's a lack of any connection or relationship between riff A, riff B, outro C, and bridge D—a problem that has been slowly revealing itself in the Opeth canon since Ghost Reveries, made itself particularly known in Watershed, and overwhelmed Heritage (though, again, it was forgivable because of that record's otherwise experimental vibe). But this isn't experimental anymore. It's like when Green Day released a rock opera, and then released another rock opera. The first one is forgivable and even exciting. The second one is beating a dead horse. Pale Communion is lame. In the literal sense of the word. It feels week and tired and unable to carry its own weight. I don't blame Mikael Akerfeldt for wanting to do something else with his career; Opeth's 15 year run of awe-inspiring music is nearly peerless. The guy can do what he wants. I just get the feeling that the classics are behind us.
08.25.2014
The Fiery Furnaces
Widow City
I'm really, really enjoying Widow City today. I've never been too high on it, chalking it up to being generally uneven with a few fun points scattered throughout. But I'm realizing now that, if you just give yourself over to its fucked-upness, it's actually a fantastic record. The back end, especially.
08.25.2014
Noise for Pretend
Happy You Near
In a mind blowing (to me, anyway) revelation I came across yesterday, the teenage lead singer and upright bass player of unheralded and mostly unknown indie rock band Noise For Pretend, who's sole, and pretty decent, album Happy You Near I picked up back in 2002 while on a Hush Records spending spree, but haven't really listened to in the last 10 years, turned out to become, in intervening years, world renowned and universally recognized jazz bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding! I'm still trying to come to grips with this. It's like if you would've told me, "Hey, remember that band The Merediths that released one EP that you kinda liked? They're singer was Josh Groban! So weird.
08.23.2014
Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
At first I was like, "Interesting, a country music guy who writes about drugs and the cosmos and stuff." Then I was like, "Eh, he's just a boring country guy who used a couple big words and dresses like a hipster." But then I actually listened to the album. And now I'm like, "Hey, this guy and his band really have their shit together. These are some solid tunes with some honest lyrics performed with care. I like it." He's not as left-field and druggy as you'd think, nor is he some old-school country savior. But he's good.
08.13.2014
Adult Jazz
Gist Is
I posted about this Adult Jazz album a while back, and how the singles they released in anticipation for the full length got me terribly excited, perhaps more excited than I've been for a new band in years and years. Well now the full length is here, and I am thoroughly satisfied. And more. What we have here is a band that, despite the obvious similarities to the indie stalwarts of Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear, carry a vision and self confidence, as well as sheer technical talent, that, after this one album that has essentially sprung from nowhere, has already floated them well over and above their influences. These guys know what the fuck they're doing. At its core, it's indie rock. Sure. But it's also prog. And soul. And, goddamit, it's jazz. The whole record has an air of improvisation to it, not exactly like jazz necessarily, but using some of its tricks, without feeling the need to swing or bop or even solo. Every member feels important to the whole; get rid of any player, and they will sound very different. It's not perfect; I wish they'd not rely so heavily on the start/stop jerkiness of their arrangements, and not be so afraid to embrace the pop aspect of their music. But that just gets me excited—already—for what they have in store for the future. If they can keep the same lineup together, and really tighten up their songs a bit, the ceiling is incredibly high for these guys. Love it.
08.10.2014
Spoon
They Want My Soul
This new Spoon album is just as good and no better than every other Spoon album. I can't really point out any particular high points or low points or even compare it to their past work, but I can tell you that I listened to it about 4 times in a row on my road trip last week while driving around Canada. I have no idea what it is that Spoon has figured out, but they've totally figured it out.
07.21.2014
Rachel's
The Sea and Bells
Existing somewhere within the Slint/Rodan/Tortoise/Godspeed continuum, Rachel's feels like they've never made the same waves as their contemporaries. Makes sense I guess; this album, at least, takes some of that post-rock Godspeed thing (perhaps before Godspeed), but does so while leaning preciously into the world of Kronos Quartet style contemporary chamber music, which doesn't necessarily lend itself to the angry college music snob crowd. If you know those references above, then you already can imagine exactly what this record sounds like. And it's exactly as enjoyable as you'd think it is. (Very!)
07.13.2014
Behemoth
The Satanist
Proving yet again that I am simply out of touch with the heavy metal community, I find this Behemoth album to be technically competent and well engineered, but otherwise vacant bombast. And yet people are going crazy for it. They love it. I don't get it. There's no ebb and flow, no yin the the yang of the cookie monster vocals and blastbeats. No movement. I've learned this with Agalloch already this year, but clearly the tastemakers of the metal world have a different set of standards than me. But I think we can all agree: That album cover kicks ass.
07.11.2014
Nick Drake
Five Leaves Left
What I want:

5. A fully remixed/remastered version of …And Justice for All
4. A new Jon Brion solo album
3. A new Devin Davis album
2. A reissue of Five Leaves Left and Bryter Later, stripped down to voice and guitar with all the accompaniment removed.
1. Newsom Sings Nilsson Sings Newman

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07.09.2014
Ought
More Than Any Other Day
An equally satisfying and disappointing melange of old-school Tortoise, old-school Talking Heads, and old-school Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, with a little Television, Wire, and Don Cab thrown in for good measure . And I'm not going to write anything more about it, because I just depressed myself by using the phrase "old-school Clap Your Hands Say Yeah."

(1)
- by Steve
The Corner Bar - Downtown Minneapolis
Chicken sandwich
Well apparently "I don't care" is a flavoring agent, and the Corner Bar puts a dash of it in everything. I don't think I've ever been less satisfied with a meal that totaled over $20.
09.23.2014 - by Steve
Mom's Perogey Factory
& Ann's Perogey Palace
- Winnipeg
Too many perogies
I had one task to complete before leaving Winnipeg and heading back into the States. I had to eat some perogies. No, not "pirogues," you literalist. That's not how they spell it here! Anyway, New York has its pizza, Kansas City has its ribs, Boston has its chowda. Winnipeg, it seems, has perogies. But in an odd quirk, and twist on the regional food formula, you don't necessarily get perogies at restaurants. The best perogies are purchased in what are essentially Ukrainian delis, but are mostly just perogey factories. In fact, the most respected perogies in the city (not counting the ones that some church makes and sells only once a year) are from a place called Mom's Perogey Factory. So that is where I went. A completely boring looking building in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Mom's does not even care to try to impress you. You walk in and are greeted with industrial tile, big freezers, a barely legible "menu", and an angry old Ukrainian guy. He must be "mom." And through the door behind him, you can actually see a kitchen full of old ladies hand making the perogies! It's actually terrifying. I did not know what I was getting into, and this guy had no patience to deal with some dummy from "the States." Turns out, when you buy perogies at a place like this, they are cold. Frozen, in fact. I assumed you'd order a dozen, and they'd fry them up or whatever. But they just sell frozen bags of them, and assume you'll fry them up at home. So like an idiot, even though I was already packed and in my car ready for the 8 hour drive home, I bought a bag of bacon perogies. And I got out of there fast. I'm an idiot. But, only a half mile away from Mom's, as I was trying to find my way back to a highway, I drove past another unassuming corner building with a sign that read "Ann's Perogey Palace." At the very least, I hoped they would sell non-frozen ones so I could actually, you know, eat them. So I entered, and was greeted by Ann. She was much more pleasant than Mom. And they sold un-frozen (but still not fried) ones! So I bought a bag, got in the car, and began my long drive to International Falls. Along the way, I ate Ann's perogies. Many of them. Unfried. No dipping sauce. One after another. They weren't great. You could barely make out the fried onion. Sort of sad. But that's what I ate. But then, a couple hours later, I realized that Mom's frozen bacon perogies had thawed! I dug in. They were much better than Ann's! Delicious, even! And I drove, and I ate perogies. And I drove, and I ate perogies. All I ate all day was perogies. And my road trip through the great Canadian west came to an end, with a starchy stomach ache.
09.23.2014 - by Steve
Smoke's Poutinerie - Moose Jaw
Pastrami poutine
Smoke's Poutinerie is a desperate attempt to cash in on what seems to be Canada's growing, ironic-but-not love affair with potatoes and gravy. And it sounds like it should be great. Originally started by some guy with cool glasses in Toronto, Smoke's uses basic poutine as a base, and then adds "crazy" stuff to it. Like, pulled pork! Yowza! It then decks out the interior of the restaurant in lumberjack plaid and photos of hip 80s sunglasses and Walkmen, for some reason. Because, I don't know? The 80s were cool, eat some poutine? They then open a location in every halfway major city in Canada, and make money hand over fist, while decking the walls with articles from the local rags of every town they invade telling the amazing story of Smoke's. It's a lot like Five Guys, in that sense, right down to the boxes of potatoes lining the floors. But unlike Five Guys, my food ("Montreal style" poutine with pastrami mustard and a pickle) was totally dull. If you're ever in Canada, and you see this (probably next to a Tim Horton's), resist the temptation. You can do better.

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09.23.2014 - by Steve
Boon - Winnipeg
Vegan Thai burger
Since my first stay in Winnipeg involved eating at Nuburger, I figured on the return trip I better stop into the place that Nuburger seemingly ripped off, Boon. From what I gather, Boon took Winnipeg by storm a few years ago (I'll guess, like, 2005) with its entirely vegan take on high-end burgers, eventually opening a second location, and spawning a series of wannabe healthy burger joints. But based on online reviews, it seems the place "ain't what it used to be," having fallen into a rut of stale ideas and apathetic kitchen staffs. But that's here nor there. I visited their Pizza-Luce-like Exchange District location (same neighborhood as the White Star Diner) near closing time on a Thursday (I think?) night, and the place was nearly empty, and only two people were working. Bad sign? I ordered some sort of spicy Thai-ish burger. It was over a month ago now, so I don't remember every detail. But what I do remember is this: Good flavor, mushy texture, real messy. But overall I enjoyed it. And even though it wasn't life-changingly good, it did make me wonder why such a place doesn't exist in Minneapolis. I think a place like Boon could really find a niche in town here. Even a slovenly meat eater like myself would stop in from time to time!
09.05.2014 - by Steve
Saigon 75 - Moose Jaw
Beef satay noodle salad
Saigon 75 is remarkable in that, while being a respectable quality, authentic Vietnamese restaurant in the downtown of a small western Canadian cow town, it is totally unremarkable. Somewhere in the 15th percentile of my list of interesting things about Canada is the sheer amount of Asian immigrants that live, not just in the metropolitan areas, but everywhere, and in turn, the amount of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and sushi joints you see in every town you pass through. You even see signs on all the old downtown diners that they serve "Chinese and Canadian cuisine." In one such diner, on the main strip of downtown Moose Jaw is Saigon 75. Their noodle salad was as good as any you could get here in the Twin Cities. I'm sure you could find better in, like, Vietnam. But I'm impressed that, in a place like Moose Jaw, Alberta, of all places, you can rest assured that your Nước chấm cravings can always be satisfied. I'm also somewhat disturbed that, here in the most landlocked locations in all of North America, the sushi is plentiful.
08.23.2014 - by Steve
Local Public Eatery - Medicine Hat
Chicken sandwich
I hate this. I show up to the one 'cool' looking place in the externally-sprawling-internally-wilting-but-still-potentially-wonderful Alberta city of Medicine Hat, Local Public Eatery, sit down, look at the menu, and realize, "Oh, shit, this is a chain." This is yet another Canadian trend I noted in my time up there: the hip chain. There are a handful of these places. They only appear in the 'urbane' parts of cities, and only one per city, as not to appear like a fucking Chilis or something, and are decked out with the standard graphic accoutrements of your local gastropub and microbrewery. Pre-packaged foodie auteurism, I guess. The place is called "Local", for god's sake! It's all a lie! I should have noticed when every waitress in the entire place looked like a carbon copy of the same car show model. Actually, I should have noticed when I saw how someone had invested at least a million dollars into this restaurant in the middle of a downtown that was otherwise crumbling, while all the other money was being invested in big boxes out by the highway. So annoying. Great chicken sandwich though. The bun was "Portuguese."
08.23.2014 - by Steve
Kim Anh Submarines - Calgary
Lemongrass chicken banh mi
The entire city of Calgary seems like it was built after 1990. And much of it in the last 15 years. It's a metropolis filthy with oil and cattle money that feels less like a city than a real estate developer and corrupt city council's shared fantasy of what a city is. It's situated geographically much like Denver, but it feels much like what I imagine Dallas feels like. Except without any decent Mexican food. Instead, like every Canadian city, the ethnic food of choice is Asian. In the middle of its nightmarish "trendy" district (17th Avenue! Where faux-contrusctivist red star tattoos are still en vogue! And there's a Best Buy at the end of it!), I found a well-reviewed banh mi place called Kim Anh Submarines. Because it's Canada, we call them submarines, I guess. The term "banh mi" never appeared once on the premises. But we all know the deal. Anyway, it was tasty, I was happy with it. However, they microwaved the meat! Screw that. Put it on a grill! Also, you can get cheese on your banh mi Vietnamese submarine. WTF?
08.14.2014 - by Steve
Little Red Market Cafe - Mortlach
Duck breast
This blog was not designed to present the type of writing necessary to convey the significance of my experience with the Little Red Market Cafe. It was one of those enlightening life moments. The kind of thing that I'll still be speaking about fondly when I'm a wrinkled old man. The kind of food-meets-travel serendipity that I'd otherwise roll my eyes at when an NPR host talks about it. I've written it out three times now, and I haven't been able to capture what it is this tiny little place in the middle of nowhere, the only operating business in tiny Mortlach, Saskatchewan, did to me. I was in dire straits, and it appeared out of nowhere. Apparently people get reservations weeks in advance, and I just happened upon it on a Friday night where another reservation cancelled and they were more than happy to seat my sorry ass a table (one of 7) by the window, the waitress/owner showing me nothing but hospitality and goodwill, and her husband, the chef, making me the best duck breast I've ever had. Perfect.
08.12.2014 - by Steve
Tim Horton's - Winnipeg
Maple donut
Tim Horton's seems like a quick easy joke to us Americans. "Oh, those Canadians and their Tim Horton's donuts, har har har!" So when I was driving into WInnipeg, and I saw my first Tim Horton's on the road, I was pretty excited. Nearly wanted to pull over and take a picture. But then a mile later I saw another one. And another one. And then two across the street from one another. And then one inside a gas station. They're everywhere. And they're always busy! I don't understand! No matter what time of day, no matter what neighborhood, there's a line of cars around the drive through, people sitting in the booths in the windows, and somebody sipping a coffee on a bench outside. It's unlike anything I've seen here in Minneapolis. It's inexplicable. Even more inexplicable is their menu. Donuts are what I know them for, but then they have, like, Blizzards. And chicken sandwiches. And hot dogs, maybe? It's so odd. I had a donut. It was good enough. Exactly like Dunkin Donuts, which I think is its closest American parallel. You don't need to go out of your way to get a donut there if you're ever in Canada, but there's a good chance you won't have a choice.

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08.10.2014 - by Steve
Baked Expectations - Winnipeg
Key Lime Pie
$7.50 for a totally mediocre piece of key lime pie in a place overloaded with "cool" high school kids having a night in the big city and suckers like me who assumed that its popularity must equal its quality. Nope. Don't bother. Unless the cake is better.
08.10.2014 - by Steve
White Star Diner - Winnipeg
Pulled Pork Sandwich and Poutine
My second meal in Winnipeg was a great little (little) diner in the Exchange District (think some combination of our Warehouse District and Boston's North End, but smaller and somehow less yuppyish) called the White Star Diner. It's truly a tiny place, just an ordering counter, four or five seats by the window, and two tables outside. They specialize in pulled pork, according to their own menu, and poutine. So I ordered pulled pork and poutine. (Here is where I need to add an entire sidebar about poutine and its relationship with Canada and Western Canada. From what I know, poutine has its roots in eastern, particularly French Canada, Quebec, Montreal, etc. Toronto maybe even has a little history with it. But in the western provinces, Winnipeg included, it seems to be a trend, as if in the last few years western Canadians have realized that everyone [Americans] loves the idea of poutine as an iconic Canadian food. So, with few other truly unique Canadian cultural touchstones to romanticize, restauranteurs in western Canada are jumping on a poutine bandwagon. When a place there serves poutine, it seems to be in a sense that says, "Hey, check this out, we've got that poutine that everyone's talking about!," rather than, "Obviously we have poutine, we've been serving it for decades." There'e even a trendy little chain called Smoke's that's quickly taking over the entire country, but we'll get to that later). Anyway, the pork was just fine, more of a dry rub than a sauce, but tangy and satisfying. The poutine was also fine, with great fries, rich gravy, but less-than-satisfying cheese (it seemed to be shredded rather than curds). I'd totally recommend checking this place out if you're ever in town. I bet it has an amazing breakfast, too.
08.10.2014 - by Steve
NuBurger - Winnipeg
Asian slaw burger
And so begins my trip to the Canadian West! First stop: Winnipeg! What I found with Winnipeg is that, while there are quite a few decent looking restaurants, there doesn't seem to be any consensus on which are the best, or which are the most uniquely Winnipegian. But after a little internetty research, and driving around town, it was clear that, maybe 2, 3, 4 years ago, Winnipeg was hit with some sort of healthy burger craze. As far as I can gather, it started with a little place called Boon Burger, which serves entirely vegetarian burgers (we'll get there later!) and has a couple Winnipeg locations now. But from there came another place called UnBurger. My guess is that UnBurger tried to basically copy Boon, but failed. So they added meat (wow!), and changed their name to NuBurger. And that's where I ate my first night in town. It was good. The burger itself seemed to be mixed with a bunch of stuff other than simply beef (and had a deep red color), but I'm not sure what. However, the patty itself actually played a secondary role to the toppings of homemade Asian slaw and some spicy sweet sauces and peanut stuff. Throw it on some decent bread rather than a bun, and perfectly good fries, and I was happy. The interior was a little too graphic-designery for me (note to restauranteurs: never let graphic designers design your restaurant interiors), but it passed my vacation food test: If NuBurger existed in Minneapolis, I'd eat there.
07.20.2014 - by Steve
Tacqueria la Hacienda - Savage
Tacos
The generically named Tacqueria la Hacienda is as good as any tacqueria I've been to in this town, except perhaps Riendo. Great tangy al pastor, great cinnnamony barbacoa, great rich chorizo. Okayish beans and rice. I went to their location in Savage, but you can certainly go to the one on Lake Street if you feel like that will help.