06.08.2015
Brad Mehldau
Highway Rider
I'm ready to place Highway Rider in the pantheon of Greatest Albums Ever Made That Nobody Other Than Steve Seems To Feel Are The Greatest Albums Ever Made. It's beautiful. It's flawless. It's unlike any record—jazz or otherwise—I've ever heard, without being esoteric or difficult. It's so good you guys. It should be on every list. And I might be the only one who cares.
06.02.2015
Jim O'Rourke
Simple Songs
Here's this new Jim O'Rourke album, the news of which a month or two ago reignited my interest in Jim O'Rourke's older pop records, which in turn has made me completely obsessed with Jim O'Rourke. I won't bore you with the details, you can maybe browse the archives for those. This here Simple Songs feels like it sits right in the middle of Insignificance (which I've decided is his pop masterpiece), Eureka, and Bad Timing—sort of a culmination of his entire last decade of pop rock experimentation. Where it ranks in terms of quality, it's hard to tell right now. His arrangements are still spot-on, and more complex than ever. But I wish it had some of the melodic bite of Insignificance, rather than the dreamy wandering of his instrumental stuff. Still, this is pure record-making dopamine. This guy knows how to place a microphone and angle an amp and tell the horns exactly when to kick in.

(1)
06.02.2015
Kamasi Washington
The Epic
For the first time since, maybe, when the Bad Plus did "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or when Brad Mehldau did some Radiohead covers, it feels like a jazz artist is making a legitimate splash in the mainstream. Or the hipster-music-geek mainstream, at least. Okay, the NPR music-geek mainstream. But unlike those two, Kamasi Washington and his band/orchestra isn't doing it on novelty covers (apologies to the legitimate genius of Brad Mehldau). He's doing it by releasing a triple album of epic, psychedelic, bluesy, souly, trippy, sublime, 70's-inspired jazz composition. And even those six adjectives undersell it. It's massive. A 10 piece band. A full orchestra. A Morricone-inspired choir. Huge. But somehow it comes off as totally reasonable, almost personal. It'll take time to totally digest it, and I didn't immediately fall in love with it as I did Mehldau's similarly orchestrated-but-more-melodic Highway Rider, but I can say that it deserves every bit of the attention it's getting. (And, okay, admittedly most of that attention is coming from the fact that he, along with collaborators Flying Lotus and Thundercat played on Kendrick Lamar's equally dense, equally genius To Pimp A Butterfly earlier this year.)
06.02.2015
The Darkness
Last of Our Kind
I had to buy this new Darkness record online because I was too embarrassed to buy it at a record store. What would the cute record store girl think of me? A grown man in 2015 buying a Darkness CD? Even I'm disgusted by the thought. But the fact is (and I'm sure this is backed up by my previous Darkness reviews), these guys are fuckin' good. Last of Our Kind might be their worst—or least best, rather—but it still has good moments all over it. It seems to be their heaviest, and least melodic, and they make the huge mistake of letting someone other than Justin Hawkins sing on the second track (seriously... what do you think we're listening to this band for?), but as a whole it's super, super listenable, and scratches all those Darkness itches that a few of us still have left.
05.23.2015
The Kinks
Arthur
I thought Arthur was going to be the album that finally and completely wins me over on the Kinks. Village Green has lots of great moments, and obviously "Waterloo Sunset" is one of the greatest gifts England has given the world, but as a whole I think I just don't like these guys. I can't take away any of the influence they've had, or the ground they broke. I just don't like them. They seem mean. It's like the musical equivalent of "resting bitch face." I've tried and tried, but me and the Kinks just don't get along.
05.09.2015
Hop Along
Painted Shut
First Sleater-Kinney, then Screaming Females, and now Hop Along; if I was an editor for Rolling Stone who was creatively depressed and hated his life (as opposed to, well...), I would write a cover story declaring 2015 the Year Of Girlz Who Rawk! I don't know if the cover shot would be particularly sexy, but the lede would remain the same. The best straight-up guitar rock albums coming out this year are all coming from female-fronted groups. Hop Along's Painted Shut is the strangest of the three. From what I gather, the lead singer started out doing Joanna Newsom-y girly freak folk, with the weird voice warbles and all, until she started this new group with her brother, combining her hugely powerful pipes with some laser-focused, hard hitting 90's-influenced mathy indie rock. So in its heaviest moments, you do get a bit of a Sleater-Kinney vibe, albeit with some gravelly vocals that could tear flesh. But then you get some mellower acoustic moments, where her art-school-girl warble comes out, and you're glad she decided kick some ass instead. Then you get some moments stuck in between, where it's like Joanna Newsom fronting Shudder To Think, and you're pretty sure you've never heard anything like it before, as familiar as it might seem. (Okay, it's not as amazing as "Joanna Newsom fronting Shudder to Think" might seem. But it's damn good.) There's also two–two!–songs about watiresses. So maybe don't worry too much about the lyrics.
05.09.2015
Built to Spill
Untethered Moon
I have nothing to say about this album.
04.23.2015
Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
This is Alabama Shakes' "difficult third album." Problem is it's only their second album. I really, really wanted that second album. It was going to be a serious step up from their promising debut, the capital-R Rawk album from a super tight band just getting better and better after a couple years of touring. But they skipped right past it, and instead decided to record a D'Angelo album, Radiohead album, Bon Iver album, at the same time as an Alabama Shakes album. And it's the damndest thing—it works! I wish the songs were better, and I wish the instrumental performances were a little stronger, but as a whole, it sounds great, it's moody and interesting, and I keep going back to it. I just wish it rawked a little more.

(1)
04.17.2015
Throwing Muses
Limbo
I got it in my head this winter that maybe I'd like Throwing Muses. I tried my best, with The Real Ramona and their self-titled, and it almost clicked, but ultimately felt a little empty. Not bad, just not enough to hook me. But now, months later, after having a very serious introduction to the newer, fresher band Screaming Females, I've returned to Throwing Muses, and it suddenly makes sense. For as much as I like them and their new record, Screaming Females are just doing Throwing Muses!. Okay, that's a bit reductive, because they're also doing Sleater-Kinney and Dinosaur Jr. and Sum 41. But those are all tangential references... I'm listening to Throwing Muses' Limbo right now, and I'm seriously forgetting that I'm not listening to Screaming Females. Though, sadly, I still like Screaming Females better.
04.01.2015
Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
Everyone's flipping out about Carrie & Lowell, calling it maybe Sufjan's best album, praising its deep honesty, all that stuff. Look, I like it. It's super pretty to listen to, it has some lovely and dark lyrical moments, great restrained arrangements. It's a great piece of work. But it's certainly no Illinois or Michigan. I'm not even sure it's better than Seven Swans. But it's plenty good to make me forget about The Age of Adz.
04.01.2015
Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly
Speaking of geniuses: Kendrick Lamar. This guy is the best rapper currently rapping. His lyrics are sharp and thoughtful and gut-punching. His delivery is dramatic and honest and musical. His choice in producers and collaborators is impeccable, and their work is seamless and progressive. To Pimp a Butterfly (as well as M.a.a.d. City) is an host-to-god work of capital-A Art. It should be playing on repeat in a museum somewhere. It's incredible. And it's no fun at all.
04.01.2015
Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
I was on board the Courtney Barnett Is A Genius train before this album, and I'm still on the Courtney Barnett Is A Genius train now. I think she's a fantastic writer and interpreter of said writing, and brings real honest integrity to an indie music world often needs to be reminded what that means. She's great. That said, I feel like most of this album pales in comparison to her (admittedly instant classic) EP from last year. It's all good. It's all very good. Some of it is almost great. And moments of joyous surprise and serendipity appear in her verses enough to keep you listening. But none of the songs on here get to the sublime level of perfection that 3 or 4 tracks did on A Sea of Split Peas. In fact, only 3 or 4 tracks on this one would even be good enough to stand up on that collection. This all sounds bad, but let me state again: that last record was damn near perfection. Absolutely no shame in coming up a little short this time around. I'm still listening to it like crazy.
03.27.2015
Dick Diver
Melbourne, Florida
I'm not sure how exactly to quantify or qualify my enjoyment of...sigh...Dick Diver. They're just a good tight band that write good tight songs without too much extraneous bullshit. And they're Australian. Stylistically, there's some amount of Australian pub-rock in there (think: Men at Work, Hunters and Collectors, et. al.), but in a totally natural way, not aping or faking. Maybe some Pavement. There's also a bit of New Pornographers happening, in that they seem to separate songwriting duties between three different members (one female), who then each sing their own songs. One even has a bit of Dan Bejar-ian lilt to his performance. But above all, it's just a good honest band playing good honest songs, with a regretful, regretful name.
03.27.2015
Screaming Females
Rose Mountain
This! This this this! This is what I want in a rock band! I can't stop listening to it. It's got riffs. It's got hooks. It's got melodies. It's got rhythm. It's got cool guitar stuff. It's got a chick singer who doesn't give a shit about being a chick singer. It's got 10 tracks that all feel like equals. All killer no filler, and I'm not afraid to italicize that. Every song here feels right. As if you've heard it 100 times before, and can sing along halfway throught the first chorus. And I mean that in a good way. It's pure, distilled, laser-focused rawk, that's somehow managed to out Sleater-Kinney Sleater-Kinney, only a month after Sleater-Kinney released a kickass record of their own. Don't be surprised if this is my album of the year.
06.14.2015 - by Steve
Pico de Gallo - Northeast Minneapolis
Tacos
Taco Riendo has become, in recent years, the go-to quality taco joint in this city, and for good reason. It's delicious. But suddenly we have a challenger, and it's right next door! Literally. I think it's actually in Riendo's old location. And honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they share a kitchen and are maybe even owned by the same people, because their food is remarkably similar, both in flavor and quality. Which is awesome, because Riendo is awesome. And now Pico de Gallo is also awesome. I had three tacos: steak, al pastor, and barbacoa. The steak was a bit forgettable (but still good), but the pastor was fantastic, and the barbacoa was fantasticer. Just super flavorful and bold and great. I might even go on a limb and say Pico is better than Riendo (whaaaaat?), because—get this—free chips and salsa! Good salsa, too.

(1)
06.14.2015 - by Steve
Big Brother Almighty - Food Truck
Pulled pork
Big Brother Almighty. It's a food truck. With barbecue. You've probably seen it around town. I have. A few times. This time, it was at the Minnesota United game in Blaine. And I ate it. And whatever. The mac and cheese was satisfying. The barbecue was at least better than crappy Aramark barbecue, but otherwise wasn't anything special.
06.12.2015 - by Steve
Asian Invasion - Food Truck
Banh Mi
The St. Paul Saints held an exhibition game free to the public the other day, at their new Lowertown St. Paul ballpark, against a touring team from the Japanese Shikoku Island League. Well I like ballparks! I like baseball! I like free! So I went. I'll leave my ballpark review for my other blog, Movies & Ballparks, but in general I'll say it was fine. The problem with this afternoon exhibition game, though, was they only had one concession stand open! And of course the line for it was 100+ people long and rounded a couple different corners. Luckily, the park is just two blocks from Mears Park, where downtown St. Paul places its daily lineup of lunchtime food trucks. So I snuck out of the game, walked over to the park, and got me a pork banh mi and some gyoza from the Asian Invasion truck, in honor of the visiting Japanese team (OMG racist). The sandwich, like the new ballpark, was fine. Just fine. And the Saints lost.

(1)
06.12.2015 - by Steve
Sonora Grill - South Minneapolis
Chicken and chorizo khinkali
I don't know when Sonora Grill started serving Argentinian-Georgian fusion, but I don't care. These chicken and chorizo khinkali are the best things I've eaten in months. They're essentially fried dumplings, filled with chicken tinga and chorizo and salsa verde and peanuts(!), and topped with a creamy chipotle sauce. Nothing complicated, but so goddamn good.

(1)
05.22.2015 - by Steve
Foxy Falafel - St. Paul
Falafel
Be glad I waited a few days before writing this review, or else you would have had to dodge a whole lot of f-words in it. Half of it wasn't Foxy Falafel's fault (there's three!), but half of it kinda was. Here's the epic tale:

1.) An older couple ordering ahead of me took forever to figure out what they wanted. They were classic nervous, timid, overwhelmed Minnesota old people, who were totally in over their heads trying to order from a menu that was completely foreign to them. The guy at one point even said, "I don't really like things that are too adventurous. I like my food plain, you know?". Their hemming and hawing and indecision was one thing, but the person taking their order did very little to help them out (or speed them up). It was super frustrating.
2.) When I finally ordered, I went to sit outside, where I was approached by a very intoxicated Native man (there's a reason I specify that), who was holding a bag. He then asked me if I wanted to buy a hat. I said no. He then pulled a hat—a Washington Redskins hat—out of the bag, and said it was only five dollars. I said no, please no. He then got mad at me and said he'd go back and sell it to someone on University, "Where the big boys are." I said fine, go do that. He then told me I was being a jerk and he was just a "businessman" trying to do business. And he took his hat to University and I took my number back inside.
3.) While waiting a long time for my falafel, the scared-of-his-own-shadow old guy who finally ordered chicken shawarma, got up and brought his plate back up to the counter, because he didn't know if it was chicken or not. It wasn't. The employee was confused, but the guy wouldn't explain that he ordered chicken, and that was falafel. He didn't know what it was. It was maddening to watch. Eventually the employee, who thought he had ordered falafel (I heard the guy myself order chicken), asked if he wanted a new dish with chicken. He wouldn't say yes, but also wouldn't say no, and the employee wouldn't just say, "sorry let me get you chicken." So awkward. I was pulling my hair out and eating it with tzatziki.
4.) When my falafel finally showed up, they'd only given me one of the two sauces I ordered it with, so I had to go ask for more sauce (I know that's a dumb Yelp-y complaint, but considering everything else, I had to add it to the list!)
5.) When I picked up the pita to take my first bite, it completely fell apart. Not even close to structurally stable. I ate it all with a fork.
6.) Eventually, I ate it. And here's the rub: It was quite good. I did the "traffic light" special, with three different kinds of falafel: Regular, Indian spiced, and beet. The Indian tasted a little odd, but I blame my own immature Indian palette. The regular, and the beet in particular, were quite good.

So that was my trip to Foxy Falafel. Maddeningly frustrating, and I was having a bad day to begin with. I might go back eventually, but for now I might just need to keep my distance.

05.22.2015 - by Steve
Busters - South Minneapolis
Jalepeno burger
I finally got back to the "new" Busters, and I'm proud to report their food is no longer dripping with grease! In fact they've done a 180 and just served me the driest burger on the driest bun I've ever had the pleasure of sad-eating.

(1)
05.10.2015 - by Steve
Nighthawks - South Minneapolis
French dip sandwich, chocolate pie
(Post redacted. Me and Nighthawks need to hug it out.)
05.09.2015 - by Steve
Peppers & Fries - South Minneapolis
Pork burrito
Peppers & Fries gets a pass in my book because they have TVs that play sports and they serve burritos. This is a surprisingly rare combination. Beyond that, they need to get their burrito act together. It looks great at first, doesn't it? And the first bite is even okay. But once you dig in, you run into some classic burrito problems: Too many beans, unmelted cheese, not terribly flavorful. The pulled pork tasted almost like really thick chili. Which isn't bad necessarily, just kind of underwhelming in a burrito. The worst part though: No salsa! There's not hot sauce or salsa to be found in this place! It's called "Peppers & Fries!" I have plenty of fries, but where are the peppers? Such an odd and unforgivable oversight. Hugely underwhelming and disappointing. But goddammit they have sports on TV.

(2)
05.09.2015 - by Steve
Ngon Bistro - St. Paul
Beef pho
My pithy (and apt!) description of Ngon Bistro is that it's the Craftsman if the Craftsman was a Vietnamese restaurant. I really mean that in the best way possible. It's a "high end" Vietnamese-French "fusion" restaurant, though I put both of those terms in scare quotes very purposefully. It's high end only in that it's a nicer space than most hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joints, and you could pay a few dozen bucks for your meal if you chose to do so. And it's fusion only in that they serve a combination of Vietnamese and French food, even though Vietnam does have a history of French occupation, so really French food is already a part of some Vietnamese cuisine. But like the Craftsman, there's something very unfussy about the place; it's not trying to be cool, there's no pretense. It's just quality all around. I had the beef sirloin pho. It was some of the better pho I've had anywhere, although there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. I also had a fried rabbit dumpling, which did have a French influence in its creamy (buttery?) curry sauce. I couldn't get what I really wanted from the menu, because they've apparently been swamped on weekends lately thanks to some positive press. Good for them. Seriously.
04.01.2015 - by Steve
Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits - Chicago
Malted chocolate pie
So here's Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, a cool homey little nook of a cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, that makes, yes, pie and biscuits. It's a totally righteous little spot; cool but not annoying-cool, a clearly focused menu that's small but not too small. But mostly it's got delicious pie. I got the malted chocolate, which was sort of like a french silk (my favorite thing in the world), but had a thick, almost torte-like texture, on a graham cracker crust. Guess what? It was great. Not too rich, not too malty. It was a subtle malt, not like a goddamn Whopper or something. I tried to go back the next morning to get a breakfast biscuit, but it was a Saturday morning, and every cool mom in the city was lined up down the block for brunch. I hightailed it out of there. Next time, maybe.

(1)
04.01.2015 - by Steve
Al's Beef - Chicago
Italian beef
Al's Beef isn't a quality establishment. It isn't grass fed beef and locally-pickled peppers on home-baked buns dipped in craft-ale au jus. It's garbage food for drunk people to eat at 1 in the morning, for construction workers to stuff in their gullet on their lunch break. It's a Chicago chain that has probably seen better days, and isn't necessarily universally beloved. But their garbage sandwich was so, so, so tasty at midnight after a day of endless walking. I loved every bite of it. Possibly the most satisfying thing I ate in Chicago.
03.27.2015 - by Steve
Do-Rite Donuts - Chicago
Lemon pistachio donut
I think beyond being "trendy," good quality donut shops are in for the long haul. Because donuts are great. They're way better than cupcakes. And while the Twin Cities hasn't quite experienced the full-on renaissance yet (close, though), it seems Chicago is well into it. I basically picked Do-Rite by closing my eyes and putting my finger down on a map. And I wasn't disappointed. Just look at that donut up there. Doesn't it look tasty? It was. And there's probably a twenty other equally good donut shops in that city. I am not complaining.
03.27.2015 - by Steve
Green Street Smoked Meats - Chicago
Chopped brisket sandwich
Surprisingly affordable barbecue in a super cool "hidden" warehouse space in between a bunch of much more exclusive restaurants for much more exclusive people. There's definitely a regrettable sense of trying-too-hard-to-make-it-look-like-you're-not-trying-hard at Green Street Smoked Meats (like, just call it "barbecue, man!"), but they pull it off. This is a cool place, with great, but not epiphany-inducing, barbecue and interesting sides. It's cheap for what you get, the service is fast, and the seating is plentiful. My only complaint is I should have ordered the sliced brisket rather than the chopped. The chopped tasted a little like it had been sitting in a pot for too long, rather than the fresh cut juiciness that the slices would've got me. Oh well. Next time!
03.27.2015 - by Steve
Cozy Noodles - Chicago
Crispy pad kee mao
Wrigley Field is an American treasure. I love it. Wrigleyville, its surrounding neighborhood, is a nightmare. A Bud-fueled, tramp-tatted, Tapout-shirted, frozen-chicken-wing defrosted dude-bro nightmare. It also hosts the surprisingly hospitable Wrigleyville Hostel, where I decided to stay for my Chicago weekend because I'm a cheapskate with little self respect. But since I at least have some self respect, I skipped all the Wrigleyville sports bars, and instead had dinner at the one place in the entire neighborhood with dignity, Cozy Noodles. It's small and tucked away, and inexplicably decorated with all sorts of retro Americana ephemera, but it serves totally solid Thai food. Their "specialty" is that they do crispy fried noodles in their pad thai and pad kee mao, which ends up being just too crispy for my taste. But otherwise, it's a great place. Don't go out of your way (I'm sure there are plenty of equally good Thai restaurants in Chicago), but if you're stuck in Wrigleyville, you'll have no other choice.