10.24.2014
Nude Beach
77
I'm currently 16 tracks deep into this 19 track album of Tom-Petty-meets-Ted-Leo, tasteful-yet-edgy Brooklyn guitar pop, yet I couldn't hum you a single melody or quote you a single lyric from the preceding 15. I want so badly to like this, it has so much potential, but it's just spread too thin. Although the very fact that I've made it 16 tracks in, without turning it off out of boredom, frustration, or exhaustion, says a lot about how listenable it is, despite its lack of personality.
10.23.2014
Blake Mills
Heigh Ho
This is a very nice, moody, earthy-yet-unearthly little "Americana" album by a guy who has Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, and Fiona Apple on his team. You can imagine how this is of interest to me. I was surprised to find out Blake Mills had nothing (or little) to do with Fiona's The Idler Wheel, as the production here shares a lot in common with that record; everything is organic, dark, mysterious, and even though it's loaded with studio trickery, none of it is synthetic. Rambling nylon string guitars give way to booming analog-distorted drums give way to droning organs give way to psychedelic guitar heroism. The songwriting is a little more vague, with hints of modern folky junk like the Avett Brothers or Ray Lamontagne, but owes perhaps more to the self-aware melodicism of an Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe. Total class, really. If there's any downside, it's just difficult to latch on to any of it. "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me" is the made-for-The-Current hit single, and deservedly so, but the rest of the album is slow, low, and just atmospheric enough that you're never quite sure what it's up to, or where it's going. But that just leaves you coming back for more.

(1)
10.19.2014
The Rolling Stones
Beggars Banquet
I think Beggars Banquet is the Rolling Stones album for me.

(1)
10.14.2014
Weezer
Everything Will Be Alright In The End
This Weezer album is tricking everyone into believing it's their best since Pinkerton. It's not. The Green Album and Maladroit are both better. By far. What EWBAITE does do, much like Metallica's Death Magnetic album did a few years ago, is mimic enough of the superficial trappings of old Weezer to keep people from realizing that old Weezer is gone. And it's not coming back. It's a musical uncanny valley; it sounds like Weezer, right? Kind of? But pay attention, and it feels wrong. Synthetic. Desperate. Like a Target knockoff of a vintage ottoman which looks so great in the catalogue. In a weird way, I'd almost rather they release another half dozen shitty Hurleys and Raditudes in search of something new and great than put out something like EWBAITE, which feels like giving up.
10.09.2014
Superchunk
Majesty Shredding
I mentioned in my previous Guided by Voices post that I have been obsessed with power pop lately. But I'm having the hardest time finding the right power pop for me! But one band that has not done me wrong is Superchunk. Another band that I've passed off my whole life (what a dumb name! Superchunk???), these guys just got on my radar two summers ago, when they released a single "This Summer," was was so big, so dumb, but so great, that I realized something was up. (That plus my introduction to their drummer, Jon Wurster, on The Best Show on WFMU, as a true comedic genius and sidekick to Tom Scharpling, who also drums for the Mountain Goats and Bob Mould, let me know that if that dude was involved with a band, they have to be at least interesting). So like GbV, I've started with their newer stuff. Majesty Shredding. And I kind of love it. It's power. It's pop. It's big fat guitars and catchy choruses and smart chord changes and a vocalist that sounds like the lead singer of the coolest cartoon band you've ever heard. This isn't life changing or mind altering music, but it's fucking great.
10.09.2014
Guided by Voices
Earthquake Glue
32 going on 33 and getting no younger and with my sad life crumbling around me, I decided maybe it's time for Guided By Voices. These guys have been a mystery to me for years, a band that "other people" listen to, that somehow exist in a different reality than my own. They and I are not to mix. Well, no more. I've been longing for quality power pop (and power punk) lately, and list after list has spoken the same refrain: GbV. So here I am. I started with some newer releases, rather than Bee Thousand which seems to be the one to start with. But I'm not sure it matters, because what I've learned is that, despite the fact that they've released so many records with so many songs on them, that Guided by Voices are a singles band. I've gone through Earthquake Glue, Universal Truths and Cycles, and one other newer one, and it's really a crapshoot. It all seems good. Like, they know how to put chords together, and Bob Pollard does have a singular sense of melody, and a fantastic voice that sounds like Peter Gabriel doing a George Harrison impression. But it's only now and then that everything really clicks. And when it clicks, they're awesome. Otherwise, it's interesting, but not super engaging. Which is disappointing, because for how legendary these guys are at this point, I was prepared for a true epiphany, and hundreds and hundreds of songs of genius to sift through for the next couple years. But what I have is a disc's worth of singles that I've heard on KEXP a thousand times. They're still good though.
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!

(2)
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.
10.19.2014 - by Steve
Lyn 65 - Richfield
Short ribs and wild mushrooms
A fun filled evening with friends in Richfield's hottest new—well, hottest only—craft restaurant. What does that mean? I don't really know. But it seems like the word to use. Anyway, it seems the corner of 65th and Lyndale is becoming the hottest spot in Richfield for leftish moneyed anti-suburbanites; there's a brand new food co-op, brand new condos, a brand new abortion clinic, and now Lyn 65! I assumed it was going to be sort of a slick, moderny pub type place, with burgers and homemade ketchup and local beers and maybe some poutine or something (think: 7th Street Social). But in fact, it's more of a straight-up, no nonsense 'new American' restaurant. Short ribs, curried lobster, carbonara, wood fired pizzas. Grown up food. They've got a burger and a torta, but that's it for their bar stuff. I was half happy with my short ribs with wild mushrooms and brussels sprouts and a sort of balsamic hollandaise sauce, but felt a little dismayed by the portion. Funny enough, there was plenty of meat. But I wanted far more brussels and mushrooms. They were delicious, but there wasn't nearly enough. And at $24, especially $24 Richfield dollars, I was disappointed with what I got. No bread, either! It's a terrible feeling to finish thirty bucks worth of food and still feel hungry enough for a second plate. And that's after a few chicken wings, too! Which, by the way, had a nice Korean sauce and awesome pickled ginger, but the wings themselves were a bit slimy and fatty for my taste. I wasn't alone; it seemed everybody in our party left hungry. And I know I sound like a whiny Yelp reviewer, but it's true. I've had plenty of "fancy" meals for that much money, and I've rarely if ever felt as cheated as I did with this one. But in a fun quirky little touch, every meal ends with a free soft-serve vanilla cone. Which is cute and appreciated, but unfortunately comes in lieu of an actual dessert menu. And the soft serve was frosty; there's little I hate more than frosty soft serve. So I even get to complain about that! So. Yeah. But despite all of that terrible whining I just did, I do really like what Lyn 65 is doing. They're bringing good stuff to a place that desperately needs it. And they seem to be doing it honestly, and with integrity, with great service, and without cutting corners or trying to pass bullshit over on us because they happen to be unique to the suburbs. They just need get some of their stuff figured out a little better, and they might just make it.

(2)
10.10.2014 - by Steve
Soberfish - South Minneapolis
Soberfish noodles
Soberfish opened up earlier this summer, over in the Seward part of Franklin, taking up the old space where True Thai used to be. I finally got there tonight, and my report is: good enough! Not a whole lot to say on it. I'd say it would rate on the high end of the clump of decent Thai restaurants in town. It's no Sen Yai, it's no Krung Thep, it's no King and I (don't you miss the King and I?). But I'm happy enough with it, and the closest Thai place to my house, which is centrally located in the middle of the city's largest Thai food deadzone. Plus it's somewhat cheap, and there's a TV at the bar that had the baseball game on, and I'm a dirtbag, so it's a perfect fit.
10.08.2014 - by Steve
The Third Bird - Downtown Minneapolis
Bison burger
I'm so out touch with the restaurant scene these days. There are just too many places coming and going, and I don't have the stomach or wallet to keep up. So when I biked down to Loring Park tonight, and saw this new place The Third Bird, in the former home of Cafe Maude and Nick and Eddies, I wasn't even surprised. Another fucking restaurant. And of course, Kim Bartman is involved. And double of course, Scott Seekins was sitting at the bar. What a town! The place is a little bit fussy, but not nearly as trend-hungry as any number of other places that have popped up recently, but still more 'hip' than 'homey.' The menu is... I'm not even sure. Generally Americanish high-endish something with a bit of French or maybe Scandanavian with a twist of Mediterranean something? I don't know. I had a bison burger and fries (with harissa dipping sauce, of course) and some roasted chili broccoli. It was all way, way too salty. The burger, the broccoli. Especially the fries. So. Much. Salt. The broccoli tasted a little weird. I don't know what was going on with it. The fries were almost great, but generally over fried. And did I mention the salt? The burger was good, with some homemade thousand island and some sort of sweet chutney. And the occasional chunk of salt. More of the chutney would've perfected it. But it was satisfying. The question is, why the Third Bird? What does this place offer us that Nick and Eddie's didn't? That Maude didn't? That any of a dozen new places don't? It was a very pleasant place to eat, if I lived nearby and had cash to spare, I'd probably give it another shot. But I don't know why I should worry about the Third Bird when I barely have time for the first and second.
10.08.2014 - by Steve
Cocina Latina - South Minneapolis
Meat
One of the last "authentic" holdouts in a swiftly gentrifying (I hate that word, but it's the right one) neighborhood around 38th and Nicollet, I've always heard good things about Cocina Latina. It's presence is aggressively unassuming, right down to the name ("Latin Kitchen." Arriba!), but it's been around long enough that you have to figure it's doing something right. So I finally popped in last Friday, and was mostly happy with it. FIrst thing that surprised me is that's it really is a "Latin kitchen," more than a "Mexican kitchen." The majority of their menu as an amalgamation of South American, Central American, and even Puerto Rican and Cuban. I can't say I know enough about these specific cuisines to be able to say what's what, but the point it, you have to go to the last pages of the menu before you can find enchiladas and refried beans. I forget the name of what I ordered, but it was essentially (and regretfully) a big pile of meat. Grilled meat. Steak, pork, sausage, pork belly. There were some fried plantains there, and some very tasty green salsa, but that was it. No rice, no beans. Meat and plantains. It was my own fault for ordering it, but to be fair, it tasted good. Everything had nice flavor, even if it was a little dry. But it was good. I'd go back, I think, but it seems perhaps like the kind of place you'll want to visit with friends; share some plates, get some rice and beans on the side, and enjoy the place before someone buys it and turns it into an Argentinian wine bar.
10.08.2014 - by Steve
Boneyard - Uptown Minneapolis
Fried chicken
We all know how I feel about the current state of Uptown, and of the new Minneapolis restaurant scene in general, so I won't depress you here by rehashing my thoughts on that. But this evening I was in a position where I decided to swallow my pride and take off my angry-hat and grab a bite to eat at one of the handful of new Uptown restaurants (or "suburban white person traps," as I like to think of them). Libertine (sigh...) was too busy, so I ended up at Boneyard, which serves "southern style" food in the old Old Chicago space by the bus station. It's big, spacious, expensively designed, and, on a Friday night, half empty. Yikes. Bad sign for Boneyard. Good sign for me, since I could sit at the bar and be left alone to watch the ballgame on TV and eat some fried chicken. And to be completely fair and hopefully positive: it was very good fried chicken! A bit on the crispy side, and drier than I'd like, but very flavorful, and it came with some ghost pepper hot sauce, and some sriracha maple syrup, as well as some hush puppies, cole slaw and a biscuit. Really, it was all very good. But it was also nearly $20 before tip. And there, in a nutshell, is my problem with everything. Do we really need this? Do we need another huge restaurant (owned by the owners of Crave, *eye roll tongue-out emoji*) designed solely to look good in photos and impress out of towners and give some real estate investors a line item for their portfolio? Nobody is going to make this place a regular haunt. It's big and vacuous and unwelcoming and expensive. But it's great fried chicken! Why can't someone just open up a little space, 15-20 tables, and cook up some fried chicken and hush puppies, and not worry about the other 30 menu items, the happy hour specials, the 20 tap beers, the $60k interior design contract, and the fucking scene?
10.08.2014 - 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.

(1)
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."