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

(1)
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)
07.05.2014
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Damn the Torpedoes
I decided maybe I should dig into Tom Petty a little bit. Damn the Torpedoes felt like the place to start. I like it just fine, but have very little of interest to add beyond that. Although, it's funny that, maybe it's a generational thing, but I've always somehow associated him more with the rootsy Bob Dylany side (like his Wildflowers album) than the Elvis Costello / Nick Lowe thing that he really fits into. Nice music to drive to, otherwise I think I can live without it.
06.26.2014
Mastodon
Once More Round the Sun
Mastodon has finally done it. It took 12 years of awesome-at-worst / untouchable-classic-at-best records, a flawless track record of flawless tracks, and uninterrupted progressive evolution in their sound, but they've finally released a dud. It pains me. I don't even really want to get in to it, because at face value, it's not that bad. If it was some random new pop metal band that your little cousin liked, you'd say, "Wow, these guys are way better than most of those other shitty bands you like." But this is Mastodon. I expect a perfect 10 every time they release something. Pitchfork actually compared this album to "Foo Fighters style hard rock," which is kinda cruel, and not totally valid, but there's some truth there. It's predictable. Lame arena choruses. Guitar tones that are just a little too perfect. Boring old bass/snare/bass/snare drum beats. Funny thing is that there are identifiable sounds all over the record that point to every one of their earlier releases. "Oh, that sounds like Blood Mountain. That part sounds like Crack the Skye. Holy shit, was that a Remission riff?" And it all is mixed with a good handful of The Hunter's streamlined song structures and catchy hooks. But The Hunter seemed (not unlike the Decemberists' The King is Dead that same year), like the end of a line of evolution. Like a predictable yet refreshing destination. Once More Round The Sun—even the album title sounds dubious—feels rudderless. Like they've gotten too good at what they do, have nothing left to prove, and are finally, 12 years later, just going through the motions. I'm not writing them off yet; a 10 year run of perfection is more than even many legendary bands could pull off, and even this "dud" of theirs has moments—in every song—of brief genius. But I have to wonder where they go from here.

(2)
06.19.2014
Courageous Endeavors
Prototype
Ignore, to begin, the fact that this group is called Courageous Endeavors. Have you ignored it? Okay. Moving on. Here we have a Minneapolis jazz quartet—MPR approved!—of sax, bass, drums, and electric piano (a Fender Rhodes, I believe). What I like about these guys and their debut record here is that there is really a focus on composition and melody, rather than the contemporary jazz crutches of dischord or experimentation. The entire record is comprised of original songs, carefully but not brazenly played, that feel refreshingly unconcerned with jazz tradition. Yes, what they're playing is clearly and unquestionably "jazz," but my point is that they let the song guide their compositional choices, rather than a need to give this guy a solo, or to make sure that middle section is properly "modal," or to test out that new analogue delay unit. I'd say it's closer in spirit to 1970s European/Scandinavian ECM stuff than their contemporaries like Happy Apple or The Bad Plus. It's not a perfect record, and some of the tracks in the first half do sometimes fall into these jazz platitudes, but there are moments in the latter half, particularly some of the more solemn stuff, that really excite me, and give me hope for what these guys might record in the future, as long as they stick to the mission statement of their stupid band name and worry about making music instead of jazz.
06.15.2014
The Royal Tenenbaums
Soundtrack
This is flawless. It was flawless in 2001 and it's even flawlesser today. The only flaw is that "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" and "Hey Jude" aren't on it. But that's my fault, because I bought the CD back before they got the rights to those two songs, but shortly thereafter they did, so now it is no longer flawed. I'm convinced that there are extra-aural calming tones placed behind this entire record that make me want to crawl in a quirky, symmetrical living room tent and fall asleep until the closing credits.

(1)
06.06.2014
Pearl Jam
No Code
I've felt this way for years now, but I still think that No Code is Pearl Jam's best album. I'll give you a moment to unburden yourself of a series of bewildered exclamations. And furthermore, I actually think it's Pearl Jam's only completely satisfying album; all their other releases have a handful of good songs (some more than others), but No Code is the only one that that doesn't make me skip every other track. And nearly 20 years later, the packaging is still flawless.
05.30.2014
Courtney Barnett
A Sea of Split Peas
When I first heard that damn song on the radio, I immediately assumed it was some sort of early 90s slacker grunge single that Mary Lucia might play on a rambunctious Saturday afternoon. Liz Phair, Kim Deal, PJ Harvey maybe. One of those chicks. I thought nothing else of it. And then later that week I heard it again. And again. On the 4th or 5th time it was forced on me, I finally bothered to pay attention to the the lyrics, which start off as eye rolling slacker nonsense, but suddenly she says that line about the meth lab, and how she "should amend that." I chuckled. And then it keeps going. An honest story about having an asthma attack. A lovely line about the paramedic. By then, I've noticed those adorable little Australian accented quirks, and by the time she gets to the killer line, "I feel like Uma Thurman post overdose and kickstart," I think she's won me over. You can't fake that kind of wordplay. That's alliteration and assonance at its best, friends. I love it. And then I hear her next single, with that chorus of "In-my-brain-I-re-a-rrange-the-let-ters-on-the-page-to-spell-your-name." It's not genius or anything, but it works in a way overcomes all of its 90s influence—and the early 70s VU influence that influced that original 90s influence—its lack of fancy chord progressions, its kinda obviousness, and becomes an instant classic earworm. Like all the great songs that make themselves part of our unconscious, these two singles from this Austrailian art school chick suddenly feel like they've been here forever, and will be here forever. Can you imagine a world without "New Slang"? Or "Last Night"? This is crazy. This doesn't happen often. Add the song "David" to that mix (which is even stupider in its simplicity, yet entirely refreshing and of-itself), and you have a double EP (which, let's be real, it's a debut LP) where tracks 3, 4 and 5 are all modern classics. Not classic in a "Hey Jude" kind of sense, but in the fact that they feel instantly "correct," and are already part of the canon. I don't think this has happened since Vampire Weekend's debut. It's astonishing, really, but also notable in how cool she and her band come across on this album. Not like "hip" cool, but "cool" in its original sense. She's not trying to make a classic record. She's not trying to become famous. She's not trying to push some new trend. This girl seriously, honestly just wants to play music with her friends and write words that she likes. It just so happens that she has serious talent, a serious way with words, and good god, a legitimate sense of how to write a song, whether she knows it or not, or whether she even cares.

(1)
05.30.2014
Sharon Van Etten
Are We There
This record feels like Sharon Van Etten's first real dud. There's nothing outwardly bad about it, but it just doesn't have the focus and bite of her last two. If if she's not gonna give me focus or bite, she needs to give me at least another half octave in her vocal range. At least.
05.28.2014
Owen Pallett
In Conflict
It kinda bums me out that Pallett leans so heavily into synths and programming on this record, but whatever. I just love that this guy cares so much about composition. His arrangements get fussy sometimes, sure, but I'd rather sit and chew on a record like this all day long than sit through some other synthy garbage by someone who's dad just bought them a Korg and a DVD of Drive. Most importantly, though, why does nobody ever mention that Owen Pallett sounds exactly like Christopher Cross?

(2)
05.26.2014
Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins
Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins
This is an album of Sonny Rollins playing with Theloniuos Monk. Do you think it's not going to be good? Of course it's going to be good. Exactly as good as it should be, and I have nothing else to add. I really just want to post it here because the cover is so cool. I think it will really spruce things up.
05.25.2014
Harry Nilsson
The RCA Albums Collection
I couldn't bring myself to pay $150 for it when it was released this winter, but I felt okay paying (REDACTED) for the Harry Nilsson RCA albums box set at Roadrunner Records. Here's what I've learned so far (or rather, what I have had confirmed): His late period albums are mostly junk, littered with the occasional, generally side-2, hidden gem ballad, although Knnillssonn, which I had assumed was a much earlier release, is decent; Pussy Cats is way better than a lot of critics have given it credit for; and the discs full of studio outtakes and alternate cuts, despite my usual aversion to such non-canonical nonsense, are full of some real gems! Sparsely arranged versions of "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Black Sails" are downright contemporary in their emotional candor, and—oops. I just used the term "emotional candor," which means I have to shut down this blog. It's been real!
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.
07.20.2014 - by Steve
Yo Yo Donuts - Minnetonka
Donuts
I guess I could see how the people of Minnetonka and Eden Prairie might think Yo Yo makes unique and interesting donuts.

(1)
07.20.2014 - by Steve
Babani's Kurdish Restaurant - St. Paul
Kubay sawar
I assumed going in that Kurdish food at Babani's (on the edge of downtown St. Paul; you've probably seen it while getting off the highway at some point) was going to be something like any number of other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants. Kabobs, shawarma, yellow rice, hummus, maybe some stewed goat of some sort. But I was surprised that it really had a character of its own. Similar, sure (rice and a very viscous hummus-type side dish was involved), but it almost had an Italian overtone to it. Like there was a good amount of oregano in the mix or something. I like it. I could live without the feta-crusted bread I ordered on the side, but the kubay sawar—essentially spiced beef in a fried dough—was very nice. In an odd twist, "kubay sawar" seems to only appear on Google in reference to Babani's specifically. So as far as I know it's not ever Kurdish. But anyway, Babani's gets a thumbs up from me, especially considering the dearth of ethnic restaurants in downtown St. Paul. I'll be back.
07.20.2014 - by Steve
Seward Co-Op - South Minneapolis
Key Lime Pie
The rumors are true. The Seward Co-Op does indeed make fantastic key lime pie. I have to try Birchwood's again to see if I can still claim theirs to be the best; from this distance it's anybody's race. Funny to think, though, how the two best slices of key lime pie in the entire Twin Cities can be found only a few blocks away from each other

(1)
07.05.2014 - by Steve
Sunshine Kitchen & Moonshine Lounge - Brainerd
Sweet and Spicy Burger
The Sunshine Kitchen & Moonshine Lounge (cute, right?) is some aspiring soul's attempt to bring some urbanity to the distinctly inurbane town of Brainerd. And it's a start. They have hip exterior wood paneling fancying up a former biker bar. They have Belgian beer on tap. They have Arcade Fire playing on the sound system.They have a live music stage. They have a burger on their menu that features roasted jalapenos and grape jelly. But that's where they stopped, it seems; the interior of the place is "Shaws with a fresh coat of paint," and beyond the Sweet and Spicy Burger, their menu is disappointingly pedestrian. But I will say: the jalapeno jelly burger is a hit! It totally works. If the Blue Door served it I'd order it all the time! This place needs to take the goodwill this one burger is earning them and run with it, and bring the plebes of Brainerd along with it.

(2)
07.05.2014 - by Steve
The Farm Market Cafe - Onamia
Taco salad
A good thing about the Farm Market Cafe is that the food tasted good. Another good thing about the Farm Market Cafe is that, if their claims are to be believed, most of their ingredients come from within 15 miles of their location in Onamia, MN. A third good thing about the Farm Market Cafe is that they are located right off of 169, just south of Mille Lacs, so you can stop there if you're driving up north on 169. The bad thing about the Farm Market Cafe, however, is everything else. The interior is weird. The menu is indecipherable. The music is non-stop Christian rock. Our server, bless her heart, might have been the worst server we've ever had (respect to our pal at the now-defunct Singapore). At one point, when the table behind us asked what "braunschweiger" is, since their sandwich special that day was braunschweiger, she responded—I am not joking—"Um, I don't really know. It's, uh, it's kind of like cat food." I died a little. I wanted to go find the owner and pull her aside and say, "Ma'am, please, you can not let that girl be a server anymore. She does not know what's going on, and she's making me feel so sad I think I might throw up. And also, please, please take down those NCAA Tournament 2004 San Antonio banners you have lining the walls of your restaurant. They make no sense." I want you all to support this place, because, as I said, the food was good! And they're trying to do the right thing as a business, which is more than 99% of any other highway-stop cafe you'll ever find. But they need serious, serious help in the running-a-restaurant department.

(1)
06.25.2014 - by Steve
Butcher & the Boar - Downtown Minneapolis
Texas beef link
Okay. I've been to Butcher & the Boar now, are you happy? Am I credible enough to continue to maintain a food related weblog now? Here's my hot take: Look, it was good. It was a spicy beef link with spicy pepper sauce and some slaw. For what it was, I don't know if it could have been any better. And for $12, I feel like was worth it. Great, awesome. But considering it was Tuesday night and you needed reservations not to get stuck at the bar, and every table in the place was taken up by a group of dress-shirt-tucked-in, silver-fox-hair-cropped-conservatively, expense-account-sucking business travelers who had clearly just walked there from their hotels by the convention center because they read about it in New York Times Travel & Leisure, and B&tB can go ahead and charge whatever they want for everything on the menu because this clientele of theirs isn't actually spending their own money, I don't know if they really need me back any time soon. So I won't bother.
06.19.2014 - by Steve
Tiny Diner - South Minneapolis
Philly cheesesteak
I'm not going to bee too critical of the Tiny Diner yet, since they're in some sort of 'soft open' mode at the moment, clearly still figuring things out, working out bugs, and, well, finishing construction on their building that's been under construction for the last 5 years (just an estimate). Fact is, based on our first trip this afternoon, I like it there. It's cozy, modern without being too fussy or unduly hip (or on the flip side, not condescending too much to some Americana notion of a "diner"), and actually feels like a real labor of love ("labor" being the key word), rather than a cynical yuppie foodie trap. It feels, I realize as I'm writing this, a lot like Wise Acre. They both even have retro channel letter signs! But while Wise Acre is prim and proper and art directed and totally Tangletowned, Tiny Diner does feel a little more rough and 38th street, which is fine with me. The problem, which I promised not to be critical about, is that my Philly cheesesteak—part of their nod to Philadelphia, as each month they will have specials based off a different American city—was unexceptional. It was fine. But I've had better cheesesteaks at shittier restaurants. And it fell apart at my first bite and I had to eat it with a fork and knife. Not great. Libby's burger tasted good, but it was also a total mess to eat. So I don't know. That's just one experience. I'm sure I'll be back, and I'm sure they'll get it together. I'm also sure that there's no way I'll be able to get a weekend brunch table there until at least next March.

(2)
06.19.2014 - by Steve
American Burger Bar - St. Paul
Burger
"So Steve, have you been to Butcher and the Boar yet?" Nope. "Have you been to Borough yet?" Nope. "The Rookery?" The what? "Surely you've been to Tilia at least a dozen times." No, sorry. "Coup d'Etat is cool, right?" Not in a millions years. "Are you excited for Heyday?" No. "I'm confused. Don't you run a food blog?" Yeah, I guess so. "Well what do you write about then?" Hmm. Well, I tried that American Burger Bar in downtown St. Paul yesterday. "Oh." Yeah.
06.19.2014 - by Steve
Sea Salt - South Minneapolis
Shrimp posole
Sea Salt is an amazing thing. Last night—a Tuesday night, mind you—it was a solid hour and a half between getting in line behind at least 200 people, ordering, and getting our food. That would be crazy anywhere else; you wouldn't even consider it. But somehow when you're in that damn park, and you know it's coming, you're okay with it. And then the food comes, and no matter how many thousands of people they've served that day, no matter how small their kitchen is, no matter how good they don't have to be (think about it), it's always, without exception, the best thing you've eaten that week. They've had every reason to cut corners over the years. They've had every reason to inflate their prices, cheapen their ingredients, dumb it down. But they haven't, goddammit, and that's incredible to me. God bless'em.
06.19.2014 - by Steve
Parka - South Minneapolis
Parka burger
I'm sorry to say, but after a first pitch looking strike, and a foul tip into the dirt, Parka's looking at an 0-2 count on my scorecard. Its uniform is crisp and clean, and it's wielding a beautifully modern, hand-turned, sustainably forested walnut bat, but it's been swinging for the fences and practicing its helmet flip before it's even hit its first bloop single. (That was a baseball analogy. It meant that Parka's not as good as it means to be. Touchdown?)
05.30.2014 - by Steve
Hola Arepa - South Minneapolis
Shredded beef arepa
The Hola Arepa food truck is now a restaurant, and it's already obscenely popular. Who knew that not only were Minneapolites starved for arepas, but they were so starved for arepas that a single truck couldn't satiate them!? And forget the pupseria on 42nd, no sir. We don't want pupsas, we want arepas dammit! So it's an annoying trend, sure, but the honeymoon will eventually come to an end, and you'll eventually get to go pay $3 too much for your arepa without having to get a reservation. Which will be good, because despite all of that seething cynicism you just read, these things are deeelicious. I have to admit my shredded beef arepa was pretty much perfect; I don't have a single nit to pick. It's everything I could've asked for. I just feel like this place could get away with doing a counter-ordering system instead of dealing with menus and waitstaff. Unless they start offering more complicated entrees, there's no reason to try to turn it into a whole evening out.
05.25.2014 - by Steve
Manny's Tortas - South Minneapolis
Manny's Special
All these years I've been perfectly happy with my Manny's chicken torta, straying only periodically (and regretfully) to the breaded steak. Nobody, not even Manny himself, had yet pointed me to the direction of the Manny's Special, which is an absolute revelation. Steak, ham, caramelized onions and mushrooms, along with all the other Manny's trimmings. Forgive the C-list ad agency speak, but it was a taste explosion. It made me look at Manny's in a whole new light. It also made me imagine what other heights they could reach if they, too, stepped out of their comfort zone now and then.

(1)
05.24.2014 - by Steve
Mayslack's - Northeast Minneapolis
Roast beef sandwich
I just had a famous Mayslack's roast beef for the first time in a few years. It tasted like resentment. Exactly.
05.15.2014 - by Steve
La Pasta - Dorset
Spaghetti
Tiny little Dorset, Minnesota holds some sort of record (unofficially, I'm sure) for having the most restaurants per capita of any city in America. They're also recently more famous for having a 9 year old mayor. But that's neither here nor there (nor mayor!). One of these restaurants is a little Italian place called, yes, La Pasta. Which is Italian for "the pasta." I think. Kind of like Dorset's Mexican place across the street (which Libby used to wash dishes for as an aimless youth), it's much better than you think it might be. It's all big red saucy stuff, but they have a pretty deep menu for a little small town Minnesota place. My spaghetti and (homemade!) meatballs came with my choice of Sicilian sauce, which included capers and olives. The very fact that somewhere north of St. Cloud and west of Duluth would have capers in anything is a victory in and of itself. It was perfectly enjoyable. No better than anything you could get in a handful of places down here, but I expected jarred tomato sauce garbage, and got much better. And so my recommendation goes: If you're in Park Rapids or Dorset or Nevis Minnesota, don't not go to La Pasta.