06.03.2017
Elder
Reflections of a Floating World

I haven't finished listening to this new (fucking killer) Elder record yet, so I can't really form any real thoughts about it (except that it's fucking killer). I just love the album cover so much that I want it on the top of the page. So here it is. Pretty sweet, right?

06.03.2017
Nightlands
I Can Feel The Night Around Me

Remember a few posts down when I accidentally bought the Cameron Avery album thinking it was a different album by a different bass player of a different popular indie band? Well I knew you were wondering, and here it is! The actual album I meant to buy! Nightlands' I Can Feel The Night Around Me! It's pretty good. Lots of (dare I say?) Beach Boys-y harmonies, chill moody washes, just barely funky. It's good enough.

06.03.2017
The Catherine Wheel
Ferment

Back in late high school I decided I should like the Catherine Wheel. I didn't. Then I tried again in college, still no. Once more around the early-oughts, no dice. But recently I woke up in the middle of the night, and could just feel it. "It's time," the voice told me. "You totally like the Catherine Wheel now." So I picked up Ferment, and I do!

06.03.2017
Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

I've always had a hard time appreciating Father John Misty. Which is odd, because he seems to fit right in to the Harry Nilsson / Randy Newman / Benji Hughes singer songwriter continuum that I'm such a sucker for. But this new one finally tipped the scales for me, and I'm totally sold on this thing that he does. I don't know if I'm ever going to just take it out for fun and enjoyment to listen to all that much in the future; this is some very specific, disruptive, thesis-oriented stuff that doesn't necessarily play well at parties. But to sit and listen to Pure Comedy is like reading a good book, or watching a good movie. Glad I did it, who knows if I'll need to revisit it in the future.

04.21.2017
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers put out a new album, and look, it's not too great. It's good and competent like their last 3 or 4, but just doesn't have the highs of their best stuff. But more importantly, I finally managed to see them live! And even more importantly than that, I saw them live with Neko Case on the tour! Dan Bejar wasn't on this tour, but that's okay. To be honest, they all seemed a little bit tired and sleepy, looking a lot like a band that's been doing this for 18 years. But they still played great, they played the hits, and holy crap can Neko Case seriously sing. She's unbelievable. I'd follow her into battle.

04.09.2017
Future Islands
The Far Field

I'm super impressed by Future Islands' ability to stay the course. They easily could've gone the obnoxious route after 2015's "breakthrough", hiring big-name producers (Danger Mouse?) or bringing in bigger sounds (Danger Mouse and an orchestra?) or—mercy—partnering with Young Thug or something. But what they did is make another Future Islands album. And while part of me is curious about what exactly "next level Future Islands" might've sounded like, I'm perfectly happy just taking 12 more songs of Sam Herring—possibly the best voice in all popular music right now—singing over some steely driving indie new wave.


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04.08.2017
Mastodon
Emperor of Sand

Over the last 15 years, every Mastodon album has been something. Remission was the brutal and concise debut. Leviathan was the transformation from concision to confidence. Blood Mountain was the big weird bold step into 'anything goes and we can do it all.' Crack The Skye was the mellowed out prog concept album. The Hunter was an all-out refinement down to songwriting basics. Once More Round the Sun was seemingly an appeal to mainstream popular metal. Things were going so well until those last two. So I was a little nervous for the state of Mastodon leading up to Emperor of Sand... and I'm still a little nervous. I'm really not sure what this album is, how it fits in. If anything, Emperor of Sand is every Mastodon album at once—there's some Remission/Leviathan rage, there's some Blood Mountain weirdness, there's a lot of Skye vocal trading and layering, and there's unfortunately still plenty of Hunter/Once More 3-minute tunes potentially ready for hard rock radio. I don't know what to do with it. Luckily, Mastodon happens to be really, really good. So even if I'm confused by its mission, I still enjoy the hell out of this album.


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04.07.2017
Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

A Crow Looked at Me is such a personal record that I hesitate to even call it a 'record.' I hesitate even more to attempt to write a review of it—or at least I would if I wrote reviews professionally for some critical venue or another. It's probably the best Phil Elverum record since The Glow Pt. 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear people say it's his best work ever, but even that praise feels imprudent. The situation is that is the man's wife died, and he wrote these songs to try to bear it. Some of them are journalistic records of post-loss minutiae, some are memories of the days and months previous, and some are urgent pleas to the universe to make sense of it all. It's all deeply moving and deeply personal, but written beautifully and honestly, prose poetry just barely formed into songs—and it's all written specifically to her, rather than to the listener or some omniscient third party. I'm not using hyperbole when I say that it's somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, as if these are private recordings not meant to be heard by anyone else. But Elverum released it because he wants to share, so I'm okay with it (although, in honesty, I haven't even turned the record to Side B yet. It's just too painful to engage with all in one sitting). Musically it's very pretty, free of nearly all of the instrumental obfuscation that he's practiced over the last decade, generally acoustic guitar and some assorted droning keys and basses. But lyrically, I think there's no question that it's the best work of his career, although again, even raising the question or placing these words in the same canon as his previous work feels entirely beside the point. The whole collection is wonderful, really, and while I'm sure Phil might appreciate hearing that, he almost certainly doesn't care. This isn't a record of music, it's a record of a man who is trying to cope by doing the one thing he knows best how to do: making a record.

04.03.2017
Cameron Avery
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams

Here's a funny one. I bought the wrong album!

What I thought I was buying was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player of The War On Drugs, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. What I actually bought was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player from Tame Impala, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. Imagine my surprise.

So what happened is that, yeah, both of those albums exist. And I think I listened to songs from both just a few days before. But instead of hearing the spooky and psychedelic choral swirls of the War On Drugs guy (Dave Hartly), I heard Cameron Avery's American-songbook inspired throwback crooning. But I don't mind, because it's good! And perhaps better than being "good," it's interesting.

The thing about this album is that it's a little gross. Whether he's writing these songs to be tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or even experimental, there's a palpable machismo to the whole thing. Songs about lovin' and leavin' and sayin' "sorry babe" when you have to hit the road with your band, telling your girl to get her hair nice and pretty so you can take a drive with the top down—hell, just referring to her as "your girl". This is all stuff that was probably in music in some times and places, and you could probably hear far worse in any random hip hop album of the last couple decades, but there is something jarring about even hearing someone referring to "my girl" on what's ostensibly an indie rock record. But looking past the lyrics—which yeah, are interesting and impactful in their shamelessness, if a little bit blunt at times—the music here is very much inspired by classic American songbook fare, and not in some corny, Pat Boone kind of way—they're beautifully constructed tunes, and recorded with the earnest grit of a National or Walkmen album, not an ironic horn section to be heard. And what keeps this all from becoming just too much is that, shit, this dude can fucking sing. I'm not saying he'd win American Idol or anything, but he'd at least make it to Hollywood. Although beyond a couple tracks, he actually handles most of the vocals more in the Leonard Cohen (late 80s Leonard Cohen) vein. Really, the short version of this review is "Leonard Cohen performing A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night with The National as the backing band". I can see a point six months from now when I'm sick of this album and never want to hear it again, but for now I'm absolutely fascinated by it.

04.03.2017
Aimee Mann
Mental Health

Hey this Aimee Mann album is real good! I feel like it's been a long time since I've been able to say that; not that there's anything bad about her last three (or four), but they've all just felt a little uninspired. This one is a nice little 'reset,' very calm and understated, primarily just Aimee and a guitar, with some minimal extra arrangement every now and then. Just lovely. But, I will say, a long-time issue I've had with her writing really makes itself known here: Lyrically, she has a tendency to write in couplets. Very simple and predictable A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D rhyme schemes. I've noticed it over the years with her, but this time around I was about to yell half the time, just thinking "If the ends the next line by rhyming 'down' with 'gown,' I'm going to lose it." And then she rhymes down with gown. Still, it's a really nice record, with better songs than she's written in years, and it's mellow and goes down smooth. I'll take it.

04.03.2017
Spoon
Hot Thoughts

I don't think Hot Thoughts is too great. Probably definitely in the lower rungs of the Spoon discography. However, buried down in the dregs of side B is "Tear It Down," which I think—maybe, just maybe—might be the best Spoon song ever recorded. Yes. I mean, "The Underdog" and "Inside Out" might have an argument, but at the very least it's the most Spoon song ever (apologies of course to "The Way We Get By"). It's a pure extraction of everything Spoon does, laser focused and perfectly composed. The rest of the album, whatever.

03.22.2017
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.

03.12.2017
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.

06.11.2017 - by Steve
JL BeersNortheast Minneapolis
Cheeseburger

I'd been mostly avoiding this JL Beers place that popped up in Northeast a couple years ago, because it had the desperate stink of a chain trying hard not to look like a chain in order to appease all of us city folk. Which is exactly what it is. But when I found myself in need of a very particular kind of thin, oniony, 'burger stand' style bar burger one night, I discovered that is the exact kind of burger JL Beers makes. Which is refreshing for a chain like that. Furthermore, with a little snooping I learned that JL originated in Fargo, and really only has a few locations in the North and South Dakota, and now a few in the Twin Cities. So as far as chains go, it's almost downright charming. Okay, so I'll go to JL Beers. The place is set up just like some "real" dive bar. Long, open grill and fryers behind the bar, not a ton of tables. The biggest red flag is on those grills, where they have automatically timed presses (I guess you'd call them?) that flatten and speed-cook the burgers on the grill. Which feels a little sad, but maybe fun that you could say your burger is cooked by robot? Or maybe every restaurant has these, but just never out in the open? Anyway, I got a cheeseburger, and it looked perfect, like something from Matt's or the Cedar Grill or any 'real' place that JL Beers is trying to mimic. Except: the burger tasted gross. It reminded me of the burgers I'd get as a kid from a Chinese restaurant when I was too picky to eat Chinese food. This very specific, oily, tinny essence that just tastes wrong. And the fries had a similar wrongness. So. They almost did it, JL Beers. Almost.

04.21.2017 - by Steve
ByteDowntown Minneapolis
Black vinegar pork bowl

Byte (get it!?) is a new counter-service eatery and bar downtown who's tagline promises some sort of nerdy, techy something or other. "Eat Drink Geek," it says. Well I did notice the table numbers had drawings of superheroes on them (we got Green Lantern), but beyond that I'm stumped. More importantly though, is the food, a which reminds me quite a bit of World Street Kitchen in its worldly-yet-ethnically-agnostic mix of bowls and burritos and salads. I got the black vinegar pork bowl, which I think was Korean, or at least Korean-inspired, but hey it was really good! It had some nice pickled veggies in there, and some cashews on there, and bok choy (so maybe it was Chinese?) and the rice was good, and it was actually more than I could finish in a single sitting! Thanks Byte! So hey, I like this place! It's bright and chill and tasty, and I guess there's a bar in back, so maybe there's some arcade games back there or something? Or maybe some tech startup offices? We'll never know.

04.09.2017 - by Steve
PinKuNortheast Minneapolis
Fried shrimp, tuna on crispy rice, gyoza

Everything I ate at PinKu tasted great. The pork filling in the gyoza was a little mushy, and the radish 'noodles' under the crispy shrimp was a little bit plain, but otherwise it was all mostly flawless. And hey, I even like that the design of the space isn't too annoying, and that it's a modestly low-key, order-at-the-counter spot that doesn't seem to be trying too hard. Good! But my problem with PinKu is this: I spent $24 there, ate every scrap on my plate, and was still hungry enough when I left that I damn-near went into Savoy next door to get a meatball sub. It's a gripe as old as time. "Oh I paid a fortune at this fancy rest-o-raunt for just a tiny plate of food and a piece of lettuce!" It's annoying. I get that good food takes time and talent and costs money. But this was a little overboard, especially for a place that claims to offer "Japanese Street Food," which to me means it should be hearty and a little bit crass, but filling and satisfying. Granted, I've never been to Japan, but I don't think anything at this place can be qualified as "street food"—it's more or less a sushi joint. (I'd rant further about the new trend of restaurants claiming to serve "street food," but you can scroll down to my Spitz post to get your fill of that). Basically, look... I like PinKu. I enjoyed their food. I liked being in their space. But I just wish it was either $5–6 cheaper, or they would've given me two more pieces of shrimp and one more tuna crispy rice cube. And maybe some miso soup. Or a coupon for a free meatball sub next door.

04.03.2017 - by Steve
Gardens of SalonicaNortheast Minneapolis
Lambchops

Gardens of Salonica was always one of those places that just existed in my mind. I'd heard people mention it, and it seemed to be somewhat timeless and simply around, but until I lived over here, it never occurred to me that it was a place that was real and that you could actually eat at. So I did! And I'm pretty sure it was good! I only qualify that because it isn't food that necessarily yells at you to let you know it's good. I got a plate of grilled lamb chops on linguine, with some garlic spread and balsamic, as well as a cup of leek and lemon soup. It all tasted good, and (and this will sound cliche, but it's true so I've gotta say it) felt honest. Gardens of Salonica doesn't seem to be trying to impress you. They just make quality Greek food. Even the interior had some nice pieces of earthy sculpture art hanging here and there, but it just felt natural and unfussy, and the signs outside are hand-painted in a way that says "We didn't hand paint these signs because it was cool and artisanal, we just thought it was nicer to hand paint the signs." So, yeah, I'm totally on board with Gardens of Salonica. Also I just realized (this very moment) they gave me lambchops even though I ordered the lamb riblet special. Crap.

03.22.2017 - by Steve
Gino'sNortheast 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!


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03.20.2017 - by Steve
PiadaBloomington
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 BurgerForest 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 JoniNortheast 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 WaitressNortheast Minneapolis
Reuben

Bad Waitress? Um, more like Bad Restaurant.

02.12.2017 - by Steve
Shake ShackBloomington
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 BakeryNortheast Minneapolis
Pizza

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 BarNortheast 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 VietnameseNortheast Minneapolis
Pho

Cali's is an okay Vietnamese restaurant that's a block away from me. And that's pretty much it.