04.17.2014
The Both
The Both
In a short discussion I had with an Electric Fetus employee at the register while purchasing my Both CD, I was happy to hear that this has been one of the most anticipated and asked-about records at the Fetus in a long time. She then confirmed my suspicion that, yes, every single one of those people asking and talking about it where between the ages of 30 and 40. But it's true. This is a hugely exciting musical pairing for those of us who take our music seriously, who love the integrity and craft of true songwriters, and who have been too busy paying off our mortgages and tallying tax deductions to pay attention to any of the nonsense music the kids are listening to these days. As an album, it's not great. I'm not gonna lie. There's nothing bad about it (although I feel like they could've found a better drummer), but it suffers from the same things that recent albums from both (both!) Leo and Mann have suffered in recent years; they're such seasoned pros at this point, that there's little of the restless venom left that made their early work so electric. But on the plus side, they're also such pros that nothing they do is going to stink. It's all good enough. "Milwaukee," however, which I'm sure you've heard on the Current 100 times by now, is a home run. It's a great power pop single. It's fun, catchy energetic. It's the best tune either of them have recorded in years. If that's all they get out of this crazy partnership, along with some fun live shows (seriously, go see them live. You won't regret it), that's fine by me. There are a couple other keepers on the record, but that's about it. Good enough. Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are still both in the category of "American Treasures" as far as I'm concerned. I'll buy a dozen more of their albums if they keep putting them out, just to support the good guys.

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04.11.2014
Nine Inch Nails
The Fragile
The Fragile is somehow getting even better with age. I think it's NIN's best album. I will accept no debate on the issue.
04.06.2014
Chad Vangaalen
Shrink Dust
What I like about Chad Vangaalen is that he seems to make music only for himself. It's an esoteric brand of noisey freaky folky pop that bears far more personality than it does influence. This isn't a guy who's trying to win over the blogs or be part of a scene. It's a guy who has some crazy ideas and a unique voice and a love for turning his crazy ideas and unique voice into songs. I don't think he'll ever crack my year end top ten, I don't I'll ever go out of my way to catch him at the Entry, and in fact I feel that his songs crash and burn more often than they succeed. But when they do succeed, they're fucking wonderful.
04.03.2014
Talking Heads
More Songs About Buildings and Food
I dismissed this years ago, along with Fear of Music, as "Not For Me." But you know what, when you're in the right mood for it, bam! It totally scratches an itch. I just wonder if there's an amazing remaster of it out there; while on the one hand it is an utterly unique 70s studio masterpiece, it also strikes me as a little thin sounding at times. A little thin.
04.02.2014
Pavement
Terror Twilight
Still don't care what you nerds say. Terror Twilight is still my favorite Pavement album. Still. Because it's great, that's why.
03.29.2014
Yes
Tales from Topographic Oceans
It's taking years, but I think Tales from Topographic Oceans is finally winning me over. I'd filed it under Grossly Impenetrable Prog Rock Excess, but I'm jamming out to "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" right now and it's all becoming clear.
03.26.2014
Future Islands
Singles
It's crazy to me, that now, in 2014, a band can actually make a true splash and gain a whole new level of popularity by a single performance on network television. And crazier still, is that the band that did just that earlier this month was Future Islands. Don't get me wrong, they're great, they're awesome, I love their records but they are capital-E esoteric. Never would've guessed they'd hit it. But man oh man, I was as taken as everyone else by the force of nature that is Samuel Herring, like a jive dancin Marlon Brando, tearing up the stage on Letterman. I've sworn since day one that the dude has possibly the most powerful voice in indie music today. He could front a band of any genre, metal, soul, country, and be just as great. Anyway, all this means that their new one, Singles, came out today to way more fanfare than anyone ever would've guessed. And it's good. It's got energy. It's got melody. You can actually dance to it, unlike In Evening Air, which you can only, like, sad-guy dance to. I think they can do better though; there's a smallness to it that I wish they'd overcome. Synth patches, programmed new wave drums, New Order driving basslines. It's all there, as always. But I still think they can be so much more. But then I'm reminded they recorded this pre-Letterman. The most that this record makes me want to do is wait to see what they do now that they've tasted power.

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03.23.2014
Bob Dylan
New Morning
I was going to comment on how underrated New Morning is and how it's way better than people make it out to be. But then I saw AllMusic gave it 4.5 stars and that everyone pretty much loves it. So, never mind. Go drive to Stockholm, WI and get some pie.
03.21.2014
The New Pornographers
Electric Version
Could it be, could it be that the New Pornographers are less that we imagined them to be? Having recently finally picked up Electric Version to finish my New Pornographers collection, I am realizing that they have only really released, at most, two fully realized albums. And that's pushing it. Twin Cinema is as good as it gets with these guys' brand of power pop. Mass Romantic has a handful of absolutely perfect singles, but is loaded with filler otherwise. Challengers and Together both feel timid and forgettable (I had to look up the title to Together just now!) Really, the combined forces of Case, Newman, and Destroyer have released more great albums than they have as a collective, which isn't a major surprise when you consider the breadth of talent they comprise, but for the amount of deference the Pornographers receive (including from myself), you'd assume they'd be batting over .400.

(2)
03.18.2014
The Books
Lost and Safe
When it's all said and done, and we're old and irrelevant and everyone else is trying to sort out our generation's winners and losers, digging through record crates and boxes of old CDs, and, I don't know, going through old hard drives of MP3 files I guess, deciding what's still cool, who was relevant, and "discovering" the hidden gems, I hope somebody puts a good word in for The Books.
03.16.2014
George Benson
The Other Side of Abbey Road
It's lucky that Paul is dead, or else he would've had to listen to this nonsense.
03.12.2014
Doug Paisley
Strong Feelings
I have to hand it to Doug Paisley, this is the first alt country record I've ever heard which owes more of its sound to Nashville Skyline than it does to No Depresion. I'm not even sure it's "alt" country anymore. What does that even mean? It sounds like it could be on K102. But, like, really late at night when nobody's listening. And wait, wasn't Nashville Skyline alt country in its own right? It's the endless circle, man. And also, I don't really like it. Thanks for reading!
03.07.2014
Bill Evans
Everybody Digs Bill Evans
Another Bill Evans record for the collection, another set of immaculately performed, eminently flawless, but ultimately unmemorable jazz tunes. The one obvious standout here (like "Waltz for Debby" on the record of the same name), is "Peace Piece," an Evans original (also like "Waltz...") that is haunting and passionate, and makes the entire record worth the purchase. Amazing how good this guy is, and how little he ever really opens in his playing.
03.01.2014
The Notwist
Close to the Glass
Neon Golden was so good. Great, even. I love it to this day. But that was 2001. It's been 13 years since, and the Notwist has only released two more albums. And they're both dull. Occasionally they stumble onto something, but it never goes anywhere. The melodies don't hook like they used to, the electronic underpinnings feel timid instead of confident, and Neon Golden's unheralded secret weapon—them woodwinds!—are nowhere to be found. Feels like a waste of 13 years.
02.26.2014
St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Picked up the new St. Vincent album on a whim last night. I've always liked the idea of St. Vincent, but in practice, she's generally left me feeling indifferent. It's like she is tiptoeing around the true shape of whatever it is she's capable of doing; you can see its form, you can make out a voice there, but she doesn't seem to commit and go all the way. And look, it's 2014, I ain't got time for half measures! It's fun enough to listen to this album and imagine it as Kate Bush singing over some latter-day Ratatat tracks, but I don't want that! I want the post-indie neo guitar goddess poet genius I was promised!

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02.22.2014
Beck
Morning Phase
"Morning Phase > Sea Change" is what I originally wrote in this post, after my first cursory listen to the former. But then to refresh my memory, I actually listened to the latter while out driving today, and now I'm not as convinced. I think Sea Change somehow grew on me in all my years of ignoring it. It does have a quality, which I still recognize, of this emotionless drone; as if instead of writing songs, he's often just writing a couple minor chords at a slow tempo, and moaning a couple root notes over it, giving it a sad title, and onto the next one. But in its simplicity and willingness to play by its own rules, it has integrity! And it's super pleasant to listen to. I'm gonna have to live with Morning Phase for a while (hell, wait for it to actually be released, first) before I decide if my original statement is true.
04.18.2014 - by Steve
Kyatchi - South Minneapolis
Hot dog, sushi
I don't know if Minneapolis really needed a new sushi place. It's that point where maybe every time we get a new one, maybe we should close one down. Just to keep it in check. But this one's a good one. Their chef was apparently the personal chef of Tsuyoshi "Franchise Ruiner" Nishioka when he was in town. And it has some baseball art on the walls. Japanese people like baseball, see? (They say "Kyatchi" is Japanese for "catch," which I will admit is the most perfect name possible for a baseball-themed sushi restaurant). And sushi. In that department, they've got some unique options that you don't see anywhere else, and their selection is limited enough that you figure everything they do have has to be well-considered. Plus they have hot dogs. Hot dogs Don't bother with the hot dog. Unless you want a hot dog. Anyhow, I like this place. Let's close Bagu and go here for now on.
04.12.2014 - by Steve
Bayport BBQ - Bayport
Barbecue
Bayport BBQ is just south of Stillwater in the charming little mini-town of Bayport, a little blip on the map that is a fortunate recipient of what I'm going to call Stillwater's "Charm Sprawl". Libby thinks it might be the best barbecue she's ever had. I don't feel as strongly as her (it was very good, with a real homemade quality to everything), but I liked it nonetheless. Its greatest asset, however: It's all-you-can-eat buffet style! Oh my god. Every barbecue place should do this. It's so obvious. Everything you get at a place like this is pre-cooked anyway, it's not like anything is being made to order. That's just the nature of barbecue! So get some hot trays and some spoons and let us dig in! That way you get a little bit of everything, everyone's happy. It's perfect. There should be a law.

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04.12.2014 - by Steve
7th Street Social - St. Paul
French dip
Sometime in the last couple years, a new standard was set for Bar & Grill Mediocrity. We've encountered a sort of event horizon, where to pass as acceptable, a new bar & grill can't simply throw on some frozen Sysco patties and toss some chicken wings and serve a Summit every now and then. They've got to acquiesce to the idea that they're gastro; they've got to offer grass fed burgers; they've got to serve sriracha honey chicken wings. And they must make their own ketchup. These are all great things, I'm not complaining. But it also means that a place that does all the stuff which would've earned them major acclaim 10 years ago can do so without actually caring. Case in point: 7th Street Social. The name alone is an indicator of the issue. You've heard of Northeast Social and Eat Street Social, right? Those are a beloved, popular, highly respected restaurants. 7th Street Social has nothing to do with them. Whoever started 7th Street Social has either a.) Decided to piggyback on the success of the real Socials in a cynical move to appear urbane, or b.) Never even heard of the other Socials. Either option is a bad sign for the integrity of the place. The second warning sign is the interior, which at first blush is doing all the right things, but after living in it for a few minutes, is just kinda cheap and cold. Lots of dark painted drywall and bargain basement faux-industrial lighting fixtures and a couple big chalkboards. Again, it's trying to play by the new rules, but it's phoned in. This would all be forgivable if the food made up for it. But as you can guess... well. And the thing is that the food looked great. I had a smoked prime rib french dip sandwich (note: It wasn't just "French dip," It was "Smoked prime rib french dip with house made horseradish sauce." We're playing by the new rules here!) and a plate of garlic cheese fries. They both looked perfect, like right out of a photo shoot. And the fries (with house made ketchup!) were admittedly delicious, as was the ketchup. But the smoked prime rib sandwich tasted mostly like smoke. And not even good, woody smoke. Just, like, burning newspaper tinder smoke. And the au jus tasted like burning newspaper tinder smoke in brown water. Super disappointing. I read a quick City Pages review, and they seemed to have the same feelings; everything was close, but nothing was perfect. And that's where we are now. Whoever started this place has enough skin in the game to appeal to the unenlightened, but only seems to be doing the minimal amount of work to make it special. 10 years ago, he would've been defrosting pre-cooked chicken breasts and unwrapping American cheese slices. But since that doesn't fly anymore, it's buttermilk fried chicken and Danish fontina. But the bartender is still calling me "boss" and the hockey game is still on the TV, and they still have Heinz if you want that instead.
04.07.2014 - by Steve
Milton's - Crystal
Ribs
So here's Milton's, a family-operated (yet heavily bankrolled), humbly-located (yet fashionably designed), universally pleasing (yet culinarily mature) soul food inspired restaurant and bar, dropped to Earth, fully formed, in a long-neglected corner of the long-neglected suburb of Crystal, with a waiting list of culture-starved Crystaliens and New Hopites flowing out the door, waiting for a craft beer and a plate of jerk chicken, which has another half hour to cook despite the packed dining room and the fact that the calendar reads "Saturday Night", but the bartender apologizes for her mom, the chef, I assume, who thought they could use some of the chicken for their brunch menu, which left them without enough for the dinner rush, since there's only enough room on their coal fired grills for the ribs right now, but that's okay I kinda wanted the ribs anyway, and holy cow how much did those antique industrial light fixtures cost? What is this? How did this happen? What's going on here? This food is delicious, why is it in Crystal? And for a restaurant that was clearly able to put a sous chef's full year's salary into the interior design alone, why on earth is the front host a terrified 17 year old in an ill fitting suit? And who is Milton?
04.06.2014 - by Steve
Denny's 5th Avenue Bakery - Bloomington
Cronut
So here's this place, Denny's 5th Avenue Bakery, that I've biked and driven past 100 times, a seemingly ignorable and unremarkable gray cement block amongst the other unremarkable cement blocks on American Boulevard in Bloomington, with a corny chef cartoon character on their sign, and the unfortunate coincidence of being named after America's worst family restaurant chain. I'd never really considered giving it a shot, because I assumed that it wasn't even really open to the public; I figured it solely an industrial/wholesale baker, selling to grocery store chains and private labeling cafe cookies and who knows what else. But while we were in the area Saturday morning with donuts on the mind, I figured 'well I guess we can try that Denny's place.' We pull into the parking lot and I can barely believe my eyes. It was as if, overnight, Martha Stewart's own personal Charm Fairies (TM) performed a midnight operation on the gray cement block, and suddenly it's got a cute blue paint job, cute yellow awnings, cute white subway tile, cute funky menu boards, and (not as cute) customers! And what's more, they have cronuts! Holy shit! Look, I know this isn't New York, and the whole cronut craze was so 2013, but I had yet to actually encounter one here in town. And you could tell even looking at it that it wasn't exactly the same as the infamous Manhattan cronut and its even more infamous ripoffs. But it was something. And of course, it was delicious. Croissanty, donutty, chocolate on top. Like a donut, mostly, but different. I liked it. I'd have another. We also split a maple bacon long john (which has seemingly become a modern day donut shop staple), that was as good as any other maple bacon long john I've had. So hot damn! Denny's Bakery! I don't think it's ever going to become as cool as a Glam Doll or that monkey place on West 7th, but that's fine by me. Would eat again!
04.03.2014 - by Steve
Szechuan - Roseville
Chung king chicken
Szechuan made a mini splash a few years ago when City Pages crowned it as the Best Chinese restaurant of 2010. We went there once. It was fine. Since then, Szechuan Spice has opened up and is heads and shoulders above any other Chinese restaurant in town, Little Szechuan wowed me at first and then absolutely dropped the ball with their crappy West End location (some of the worst service I've ever had anywhere), and Szechuan (just Szechuan) is still chugging along in a Roseville strip mall. I just had their chung king chicken, which is basically crispy fried dark meat chicken with a shit ton of red peppers and garlic and ginger. Get it to go, let it marinate for a bit. It's good. Skip the dan dan noodles. You know, actually, just go to Szechuan Spice and thank me later.
04.03.2014 - by Steve
Copper Pot - Downtown Minneapolis
Indian Buffet
It's no Gandhi Mahal, but I'll go ahead and say the Copper Pot is a welcome addition to downtown, particularly to the 5th and Hennepin area, which otherwise is nothing but gross pizza slices and roofie bars. I can only speak for this one lunch buffet however, not their menu in general, which might affect my feelings about it. The flavors were all nice–-dynamic, but not very spicy--but all of the buffet options seemed a little picked over; lots of sauce, but not a lot of heft. And the chunks of chicken that were available were a minefield of bones. Still, it was quality. Give it a shot before it turns into a burrito place and then a pizza place and then another pizza place and then an Indian place.
03.29.2014 - by Steve
Baker's Ribs - Eden Prairie
Ribs
Here's an oddball. Baker's Ribs (not to be confused with Bakers Square). Has anyone outside of Eden Prairie or the western suburbs ever heard of this place? I certainly hadn't. But here we are, an authentic Texas barbecue joint, hiding in plain sight in an early 90s strip mall near the Eden Prairie Center Mall (that's where they filmed Mallrats, you know). I say "authentic," because as I learned from reading the framed press clippings inside, Baker's is a small local chain in and around Dallas. But for whatever reason, aside from those 6-7 locations, they have a single franchise located here in Eden Prairie. And it's been here since 1996, making it more crazy to me that I've never heard of it until this week. You'd never guess it was a chain based on the interior. It has a shambly, efortless amateur charm, the kind of place that Famous Daves yearns to recreate. Most importantly, the food. I'm also at a bit of a loss, here. The first rib left me impressed, with its super-tender-but-not-fatty, fall-off-the-bone ribbiness that exactly what you want. The sauce was light and vinegary, not overwhemlingly sweet. The beans were (my favorite go-to description of beans) unique. Then, diminishing returns. The second and third were good but uninspiring. The fourth and fifth were overstaying their welcome. By the sixth I had practically lost interest. Like I said, it was odd. There was nothing wrong with any of it. If anything, the quality was higher than many other barbecue places I've tried. But I left feeling like me and Baker's just aren't meant to be.
03.29.2014 - by Steve
Mason's - Downtown Minneapolis
Burger
I almost forgot to write about this new downtown spot, Mason's*. Basically, don't worry about it. You're not missing anything if you never give it a second thought beyond reading this post. You don't need it, and it doesn't need you. If anything, I guess, if you really want a burger, it might be a step above Gluek's, and a step blow Ike's, and less of a headache than Hell's Kitchen. And their burgers are from Wisconsin beef producers. So that's something. But, really, don't worry about it. Forget I even brought it up.

* The actual name of this restaurant is Mason's Restaurant Barre. Really. They spell it with two R's and an E. I'll leave that here as a warning.
03.26.2014 - by Steve
Wally's Roast Beef - Bloomington
Roast beef sandwich
There's a secret cold war that's been brewing for years in the Twin Cities food scene that doesn't quite rival the Matt's vs. 5-8 Club jucy lucy wars, but has nonetheless mobilized the faithful on both sides. I refer, of course, to the Wally's vs. Maverick's Roast Beef War of the First Ring Suburbs. For decades now, both locations have-- ugh. This is terrible and going nowhere. I'll get to the point: Both these places, Maverick's in Roseville and Wally's in Bloomington, serve practically the same menu, centered around their "famous" roast beef sandwiches. Both places offer decent but clearly frozen food service fries. Both places have a little toppings bar with onions, pickles, horseradish, barbecue sauce, and other fun stuff. Both places offer other fast-food type fare than is clearly meant to play second fiddle to the roast beef. The roast beef itself, in both cases, is clearly high quality, but somewhat lacking in flavor. This shit is better than Arby's, that's for sure. But you don't get the same head-melting payoff you might get with a good home-cooked beef roast, or even what you'd get from, say, a garlicy Maryslack's sandwich (what you used to get there, at least). Despite that, I do kinda love both Wally's and Mavericks; I love that they exist. Though neither is particularly historic at this point (Wally's is located in the first floor of a Southtown office park, for cripes sake), they both spiritually harken back to the days when fast food was a fresh new novelty, when McDonald's was a mom'n'pop shop, and a roast beef sandwich was the height of lunchtime integrity. If I had to pick, I'd choose Wally's. The beef is a little tastier, and their horseradish sauce has more bite. But both of them, as well as the third-party minor players of Penn Lake Roast Beef and Bronco's in Anoka, are worth trying out.

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03.23.2014 - by Steve
Stockholm Pie Company - Stockholm, WI
Pecan pie, fruit pie, pork pie
I think this place is sort of an 'open secret' in the worlds of uptight foodies, retiree bikers gangs, and garage saling mothers. It seems too good to be true at first; a hole in the wall little pie shop run by a white haired lady and some high school kids, off the beaten path in a town with a population of 66 on Wisconsin's Mississippi bluffs, halfway between Red Wing and Wabasha. Homemade pies made fresh from scratch. Only about 5 tables. No flashy menus. No food-service burgers or salads. None of the phony-homey production-line stench that you get from the Betty's of the world, none of the funky reclaimed-wood hipsterism you'd get in the city. No line. My pork, apple and cheddar pot pie and Libby's quiche are worth entire posts of their own. But lunch was simply a prelude to dessert. I'm no pecan pie expert, but this was phenomenal. It tasted like melted cookie dough, in the best way possible. Libby's triple berry pie, meanwhile, was the best she's ever had. I think I might have seen a tear. The dream is real, people. There is indeed amazing pie near the cities. You just have to go into Wisconsin to find it.

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03.21.2014 - by Steve
Kramarczuk's - Northeast Minneapolis
Cabbage roll
I hate that it's taken me this long to actually eat at Kramarczuk's. I've had plenty of their sausages in recent years (Moroccan lamb FTW), and I've stood in line with everyone else at their Target Field kiosks for some good-if-poorly-prepared brats. But I had never considered, or never was in the mood for, the joy of what lies in their hot deli. Goulash. Borscht. Pirogues (sorry, pyrohy!). More sausages. Cabbage and vinegar in every form you can dream. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is completely comfortable, the service is quick. I love it already. For my inaugural meal, I went with what is supposedly a Minneapolis legend, the cabbage roll. Imagine a sort of Balkan burrito, with ground pork and rice and a onions and who knows what else stuffed tight inside some leaves of cabbage, and braised and doused in creamy tomato sauce, with a big heaping side of sauerkraut and corned beef on the side. I have to admit, it was a bit passive at first, but I plopped a couple drips of Tabasco on it, and I was sold. 100% satisfying. I know a man can only handle so much kraut and paprika, but Kramarczuk's is all I've been able to think about since Thursday. I want to keep going back and order one of everything.