03.19.2019
Panda Bear
Buoys

It's been a long time since I've really had faith or excitement in anything Animal Collective related. In my own estimation, it's been diminishing returns since Feels, which was a long time ago now. Actually I don't want to think about how long. Same goes for Panda Bear himself, whose Person Pitch album was pretty great, but has generally ridden the same slow slide in the last decade as his band. No shame, it happens to everyone. So it feels like a breath of fresh air listening to Buoys, which, sure, feels a little 'minor' compared to some of his more epic work, but is otherwise a incredibly pleasant return to some of the more wide-open melodicism and DIY construct of the Collective's earlier work. You know, the Good Shit. Really Buoys is probably the closest to Sung Tongs as anything anyone from the group has done in the last decade. But lighter, more 'mature,' and comfortably less showy. Which is maybe what he's needed to do all along.

03.19.2019
Bob Mould
Sunshine Rock

This new Bob Mould album rips hard bro. But that cover. That cover. My god.

03.11.2019
Will Oldham
Joya

I did that thing with Will Oldham / slash / Bonnie Prince Billy where I jumped into his career kind of in the middle, and then mostly just went forward from there, assuming (erroneously) that the body of work before that entry point would be lesser than from that point forward. This is a dumb thing to do and I shouldn't do it. Because, as I've recently learned, in Will Oldham's particular case, his early stuff apparently rules. Joya is a joy. No shit.

02.28.2019
Windhand
Eternal Return

Doom metal is so fucking boring. But Windhand is so fucking good. What am I supposed to do? Well what I'm going to is sit here and type about how frustrating it is to listen to this band, because they're so, so, so close to really breaking through and making something transcendent, but are hamstrung by the conventions is the dumb genre they've tied themselves to. These guys/girl have a real sense of how to spin a melody and construct a riff that's way beyond what most metal bands are able to do. This shit actually gets stuck in my head! Like, legitimate hooks! Plus they sing! I mean, kind of in a Jerry Cantrell sorta 90s melodic grunge kind of way, but dammit they sing! They harmonize! They go for those high notes! But it's all in service of this by-the-numbers, detuned syncopated distorted blues riffage that defines the entire world of "doom" metal. The guitar and bass barely depart from one another, just mirroring each other until maybe it's time for a solo. These so much opportunity in these songs, so much space for melodic counterpoints and chord construction, but instead they just play real slow Sabbath shit. Look, they do it better than most other bands playing slow Sabbath shit these days (and did I mention they sing??). But there's so much potential in this band that I get a little frustrated listening to them—and I'm going to now listen for the 12th time this week because they rule.

02.28.2019
Sunny Day Real Estate
LP2

I don't think I ever sat and listened to this Sunny Day Real Estate album front to back before, but something about it this morning just felt right, so I put it on. And it's doing its job admirably. Plus it's pink which is nice.

02.13.2019
The Mars Volta
Amputechture

I'm not always in the mood for the Mars Volta. But when I'm in the mood for the Mars Volta, the Mars Volta is the greatest band of all time.

02.12.2019
Jessica Pratt
Quiet Signs

I used to not like Jessica Pratt, but then she released this new album and now I do. This is some beautiful spooky stuff.

(Side note: Jessica Pratt has a notably odd voice. It's lovely and she sings well, but it sounds almost like someone else's voice sped up. At one point I got curious and wanted to hear what it might sound like slowed down, so I dragged a song into my audio editing program and shifted the pitch down about a half octave. What came out is honestly one of the most enchanting "male" voices I've ever heard—somewhere between Jose Gonzalez and Sam Beam and Joao Gilberto, but with a control and purity that none of them can match. I know this is just make believe, and a construction of digital manipulation, but damn. As much as I like Jessica Pratt's voice, I'm finding myself crestfallen that this fantasy man singer doesn't actually exist.)

01.29.2019
Walter Martin
Reminisce Bar & Grill

God I hate when this happnes one of my favorite music guys Walter Martin who had my favorite album of a couple yaera a go released a new album in Frebruary of last year and I didn't even know about it and I missed a whole year of listening to it and it probably would've been in my top 10 because guess what it's super good but I just heard about it today and why didn't anyone etell me about it befor e now????

01.24.2019
Makayla McCraven
Universal Beings

This is a very nice jazz album to listen to.

01.21.2019
Foxwarren
Foxwarren

At the beginning of 2018, I discovered this record The Party by a Canadian singer songwriter named Andy Shauff. It's a great album of great songs, and it was one of my favorite albums of the year. Except I couldn't put it on my Best of 2018 list because it came out in 2016. Oops. But then, late in December, like a traveling magi visiting my midnight stable with the region's finest frankincense, Andy Shauff's band Foxwarren releases their new album. And while it's not quite as great as The Party, it's still damn good, and more or less sounds like a Shauff album. See Best Of list below.

12.31.2018
Steve's Favorite Music of 2018
A List

Oh crap it's New Years Eve and I haven't posted my year end lists yet oh my god oh my god I better hurry up! Here's the deal for this year: I'm gonna go ahead and throw EPs and singles and compilations on the list. Because there are 4 specifically that really did it for me this year, and I'm just going to treat them all like equals. It's (almost) 2019, and it's a new landscape for media! Anything goes! Content! Here's my list:

1. Ryley Walker - The Lilywhite Sessions*
2. Hailu Mergia - Lala Belu
3. Chastity - Death Lust
4. Ought - Room Inside the World
5. Sidney Gish - No Dogs Allowed
6/7. Jeff Rosenstock - POST**
6/7. Barely March - Marely Barch**
8. Khadja Bonet - Childqueen
9. American Pleasure Club - A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This
10. Fluisteraars - De Oord
11. The Mountain Goats - Hex of Infinite Binding
12. Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive
13. Warthog - Warthog
14. Mick Jenkins - Pieces of a Man
15. Prince - Piano and a Microphone 1983
16. Self Defense Family - Self Defense Family
17. Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past
18. Sandro Perri - In Another Life
19. Foxwarren - Foxwarren
20. The Internet - Hive Mind

*I can't fuckin believe it either
** These are tied, because they're so spiritually similar that it seems silly to separate them. Barely March basically got his break by covering a Jeff Rosenstock song for a compilation.

12.30.2018
Fluisteraars
De Oord

This is one of those beautiful rare black metal releases that makes me want to open up a window like the reformed Mr. Scrooge on Christmas Day and shout, "You there, boy, tell me, why can't all black metal be this good??". And the boy will look up and answer, "Why, because it's Danish sir!" Well, I don't know if the Danish part has anything to do with it other than making their band name nearly unpronouncable, but the point is that Fluisteraars have unlocked some sort of black metal composition holy writ, and every one of the 15 minutes of this song (yes it's just one song, but it may as well be a full album. A symphony, even) is perfect. I've dug into some older work of theirs, and while it's quite good, I feel like De Oord is where they've really figured it out. So kind of like VRTRA from a couple years ago, I'm going to be on the edge of my seat waiting for these Danes to release a new full length as soon as possible.

12.30.2018
Mitski
Be The Cowboy

Everyone's real into this Mitski album but I'm kinda not. I think it sounds like St. Vincent but not as good.

12.13.2018
Blake Mills
Look

Blake Mills released a beautifully unique alt country (?) album back in 2014 that I can no longer listen to because it's just one of those albums. Then I guess he just started producing for other artists ($), which is remarkable in 2018 because he's what you might call a guitar guy and it's 2018. But now he's finally returned! With an all-synth instrumental EP? Okay. It's very chill, which, by the way, in 2019 I'm hoping chill will no longer be an adjective. Or verb. I also hope Blake Mills puts out some more music. Because, look, Look is good and chill (shit!), but this guy has to have more up his sleeve.

12.08.2018
Ryley Walker
The Lilywhite Sessions

My relationship with Dave Matthews and his band is a complicated one which I won't get into here. Well actually, it's not that complicated and I will get into it here: I don't really like Dave Matthews Band, but sometimes they do something that I like. There. So. Ryley Walker, whom I have already written about on this blog during this calendar year, apparently grew up a huge Dave Matthews fan, and even though he's now an infamously scuzzy Chicago post-Tortoise-rock figurehead, he has not let go of his love. So after releasing one fantastic album this year (Deafman Glance, as seen on my top ten albums of the year list, I'm sure), he decided to get some of his cuzzy Chicago post-Tortoise-rock friends together and record a full album cover of a Dave Matthews Band album. And it's shockingly good. Maybe even better than Deafman Glance, which I've already pointed out as being in my top ten this year. It's a passionately earnest album; although I don't know the original DMB version of The Lilywhite Sessions, it's clear that Walker isn't trying to deconstruct or reinterpret or otherwise ironically play these songs. Yes, he's doing it in his own voice, and changing arrangements here or there, but it's fully from the heart, lovingly performed, and fully musical. Almost makes me want to dig in to the original Dave version lol jk yeah right.

03.16.2019 - by Steve
Lions and Tigers and SquaresManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I'm going to try to keep this short. Because there's so many levels to it that I'm just exhausted from it already, especially having just written a 30 page essay about black and white cookies. Here's what's up: Detroit-style pizza is a thing now. It's a thing. Do they really make pizza like this in Detroit? Because if you ask me, what's known as Detroit-style pizza is what Rocky Rococo has been making my entire life. Square pan, thick crust with butter-crispy edges, personal sized pizza. You can even find versions of it in this city called something like "Sicilian style" or "grandma style." Where did this Detroit thing come from? Are you from Detroit? Can you help me?

That said: Detroit style pizza is delicious. Lions and Tigers and Squares, a new little shop that's decided to kickstart the trend in Chelsea, does a fine job of making it. It's probably an insult to them for me to say I like Rocky Rococo better though. But that's okay; Rocky Rococo is the best. Have you been there lately? There's one left in Brooklyn Center. Check it out.

And I have to admit, despite my annoyance at this whole "Detroit" thing, Lions and Tigers and Squares is an extremely clever name. Think about it.

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Zabar's Manhattan
Black and white cookie

I'm here to talk about the black and white cookie. This post specifically says "Zabar's" on it, which is where I purchased and photographed this particular black and white cookie, but having eaten a handful of different cookies from various locations—from trashy deli to beloved contemporary bakery—I have thoughts on this style of cookie in a more general sense, and subsequently thoughts about New York City's cultivation of a unique and hyper-local cuisine. If you would allow me to elucidate? Thank you.

There are certain foods that have been used for decades as a shorthand for "New York." Hot dogs. Bagels. Pizza slices. Pastrami on rye. These are all still pretty apt choices, but it's also an old list. It's 2019, times change, a whole new crop of people have been living here long enough to become a part of it. There's still a clear family of foods that are not necessarily unique to this city, but are so ubiquitous here while remaining somewhat niche in other places, that they feel truly like part of the makeup of New York's ecosystem. The list as I see it:

1. Halal chicken on rice
2. Pizza slices (going nowhere)
3. Bacon egg and cheese sandwiches
4. Bagels (going nowhere)
5. Boar's Head deli meat sandwiches (Boar's Head feels like a fancy good brand at stores in Minnesota. Here it is literally everywhere. You can't not buy it. Even the shittiest scariest lamest bodegas serve Boar's Head without fail.)
6. Seltzer
7. Jamaican beef patties
8. Hot dogs (going nowhere, but seemingly overtaken by halal chicken on rice carts)
9. Pickles
10. Black and white cookies

The black and white cookie might be the least visible of the items on this list, yet it's still extremely New York. It was even part of a Seinfeld gag! I don't think I ever saw one for sale anywhere in the Twin Cities. Maybe possibly once or twice in little bakeries, but not really. Here they're almost always right there in the pastry rack, next to the chocolate chip cookies and muffins and cakes, and just as often are up on or near the front counter of random crummy delis and bodegas, pre-packaged from whatever food distributers make them. What surprised me most about the black and white cookie, though, is that's it's barely even a cookie! I bit in, expecting sort of a standard sugar cookie, or perhaps something like a snickerdoodle, but really they're practically cake! They're extremely soft, like a very thin cake; or like a very wide muffin top. The icing, as you can see, is half chocolate and half plain (or vanilla?). And that's it.

I've had 3 or 4 at this point, and while the quality of course varies on the quality of the bakery. I've had them pre-packaged from a deli, and I've had one from a artisanal bakery in Prospect Heights that was listed on one food blog as the best black and white cookie in Brooklyn. In general they're always tasty. But they're too big, the icing sometimes gets weirdly chemically and kinda gives me a headache. But they're always satisfying.

This specific cookie that's up there in the photograph (and listed as the title of this post!) is from Zabar's, a "famous" Upper West Side grocery store that is supposedly famous for the black and whites. All I can say is it was good. Maybe the best I've had? It was certainly better than the cheap deli ones, and I actually didn't like the aforementioned Prospect Heights one all that much. So I guess Zabar's is technically the best I've had. But mark my word I'm going to track down the true king of black and white cookies in this town.

(Oh, also Zabar's pastrami sandwich was incredibly mediocre. Not worth a post.)

(Oh, oh, and the new Vampire Weekend music video was filmed in Zabar's! And Jerry Seindfeld was in it! We've come full circle!)

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Brennan & CarrBrooklyn
Roast beef sandwich

Brennan & Carr is somehow maybe the least New York restaurant in New York, and yet has been around longer longer than almost any other restaurant in New York. Located way down in deep Brooklyn—we're talking old Italian families who still probably have mob ties, entire neighborhoods of Russians who probably also have mob ties, and actual grass yards—this place was supposedly built in the mid-30s, and at the time was entirely surrounded by farm fields. Which makes sense when you see it; it's built as a freestanding house-type structure, with a couple additions that have been built over the years. It feels old and almost Midwestern in a way that hardly anything else in this city does. And their specialty is equally old and Midwestern: roast beef sandwiches. They've got other stuff on their menu, notably clam chowder (not so Midwestern), but it's the kind of place where if you order those other items, the waiter (a scummy teenager in a white shirt and bowtie) might honestly get confused for a second. You go to Brennan & Carr for the roast beef and chowder. And the wood paneled walls and old cowboy paintings. The sandwich itself was, I guess, satisfying. It didn't stack up to some of the classic Minneapolis roast beef joints like Wally's and Maverick's, but it was doused in jus and generally tasted pretty good. It could've used some horseradish though.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Andrew's LuncheonetteBrooklyn
Cheeseburger

This is the best burger in Brooklyn until further notice. I want another one right now.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Foxfire Mountain HouseThe Catskills
Flank steak

I've already typed a bunch about the Catskills being uncomfortably bougie and urbane given its status as a woodsy mountain getaway (see my Phoenicia Diner post below), so I won't do that here. I also won't do that here because it would make me a hypocrite. See, on our last night in town, we wanted to get a nice meal, and found this seemingly new boutique hotel restaurant called the Foxfire Mountain House, which was well reviewed, albeit by very few people. In fact, when we showed up, there were only 3 other people eating there, and the staff seemed genuinely surprised to see us. But let me just say: this entire meal was a wonderful fucking experience. The place was super charming (if a little interior-decorator-y), the cool guys running the place were extremely pleasant and decent, and the food was truly one of the best meals I've had in a while. Erin's in particular was mind blowing; a slow roasted pork rubbed in some sort of garam marsala maybe (it was slightly Moroccan, see also my Phoenicia Diner post below!), with a corn meal mash and some apples. It was out of this world.

So, yeah. I can't hate on the Catskills. They treated us right.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Phoenicia DinerThe Catskills
Moroccan chicken sandwich

We took a mini-vacation up to the Catskills this weekend, and I have thoughts.

1. Holy cow the Catskills are close to New York City. And very pretty, to boot. For as much as you think of the city as this huge, gray, sweaty, uncaring block of concrete—which yes it is—you never really think of the fact that it's basically situated in a river valley at the foothills of mountains. When you're in the city, nature as you know it is basically confined to a rectangle in the middle of Manhattan. But even getting towards the outskirts of the Bronx, you can start to make out real hills, actual topography. Then once you pass Yonkers, you're basically in the forest. Sure the forest is hiding any number of dead and dying industrial towns and suburbs, but gosh it's lovely. And then in just about 2 or 3 hours, you're in the mountain wilderness. Or at least a relative wilderness, because:

2. Wow even the small towns are fairly dense. At least compared to my midwestern definition of a small town. Unless you're in the actual, government-protected wilderness, there isn't really any "free" space here. Not even the appearance of it. I figure people have been building and farming here since the fucking 17th century, so any bit of open space has generally been claimed and partitioned. Plus the fact that you're just a short drive north of 20 million people. Which then leads to:

3. Urbanity. You can "get away", but you can't get away. People in New York have money. And they like to open bakeries and eat at farm-to-table restaurants and teach yoga and acting classes. And they like to drive up to the Catskills. So, of those 20 million people, of course there are any number of entrepreneurial souls with money to burn who want to open bakeries and teach yoga in the Catskills. So in just about every town you drive through, you are never far away from the creature comforts of the city. Modernist AirBnbs, kombucha bars, pop-up fashion boutiques. And of course:

4. The Phoenicia Diner. This place pops up on nearly every Guide To The Catskills article, and Retreats From Brooklyn blogs, and probably Gweneth Paltrow's magazine. It's basically an old 60's roadside diner that has been carefully retrofitted to the needs of the Millennial. Cool minimalist logo, alcoholic milkshakes, kale. Think Hi Lo Diner but about two clicks cooler. But, hey, I like the Hi Lo Diner! A lot! And I like the Phoenicia Diner too! They do just enough to keep the real old diner charm to not turn it into some sort of bullshit faux-earnesty charade. I had a Moroccan-spiced chicken sandwich, and I have to say it was damn good. Fries were a little greasy and limp, but whatever. The chicken itself was seasoned nicely, and cooked perfectly considering it was grilled, which is often a dry disaster in any setting. And I guarantee every person eating there was on a road trip from Brooklyn. So shit, I'm guilty as anyone I guess.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
La Caridad 78Manhattan
Cuban pork and dumplings

To get this out of the way, let me first say that La Caridad isn't particularly great. It's totally acceptable, but disappointing for the price point. Now, the interesting part:

La Caridad 78 is the oldest of the Upper West Side's Chinese Cuban restaurants. Which is a crazy thing to parse, because that means it's not the Upper West Side's only Chinese Cuban restaurant. There are more. 3 or 4 more, in fact. What happened is, back in the 50s and 60s, when the Castro regime took over Cuba and boatloads of defectors and asylum seekers fled to America, many of the ethnic Cubans ended in and around Miami. But Cuba also held a surprisingly large Chinese population, many of which came up to New York City, home to an already substantial Chinese community. These Chinese Cubans did what so many other new American transplants did, and started restaurants. But because they had a tradition of both Chinese and Cuban cooking, they just went ahead and opened restaurants that served both. Why not, I guess?

The excitement of learning of these places is tempered somewhat, when you learn that the Chinese side and Cuban sides of their menus are more or less independent of one another. There's no fusion here. No plantain dumplings, no szechuan cuban sandwiches. The closest you can do is to order a side of yellow rice and beans with your kung pao chicken instead of plain old white rice. It seems like a huge missed opportunity, but when you consider these places have been around for 60 years, I guess you can't complain.

Anyway, as I mentioned, there's nothing spectacular about the food. It's all good, yes, and if you got this quality of Cuban food from some hole-in-the-wall joint on Flatbush for $6 in a styrofoam container, you'd be thrilled. But this is the Upper West Side we're talking about, and you're paying Upper West Side prices. So yeah, it's charming and weird and maybe worth the trip if you're in the area and open to some novelty. But otherwise, just sate yourself on the knowledge that it exists at all.

02.11.2019 - by Steve
Sabor UnidoNewark
Portuguese beef rib

Hey I bet you didn't know this: Newark, New Jersey has a large and concentrated Portuguese population. You didn't know that, right? I certainly didn't know this. But it does! Portuguese immigrants started coming to town in the 50s and 60s I guess, and took over a neighborhood adjacent to downtown Newark that's called—seriously—The Ironbound. Which is the most Game of Thrones shit I've ever heard. Anyway, there's still a good amount of Portuguese people there, but in the last couple decades the Ironbound has also attracted a lot of Brazilians, which makes sense when you think about it and didn't fail 7th grade Western Civ class. So now, driving down the main drag of the Ironbound, it's just one Portuguese/Brazilian restaurant after another. Seriously, you can't throw a rock without hitting one; I've seen Chinatowns and Little Italys like this before, the there's something very odd about being surrounded by red and green Portuguese flags while just a mile away from downtown Newark. Which, by the way, is a dump.

So since we had about 20 places to choose from, we more or less threw that rock. And checked the online ratings. And what we chose is Sabor Unido, which was pretty well rated and not terribly fancy. The gist of the menu at this place—and most any other place like it—is a grilled or stewed meat, rice and beans, and some kind of veggie. I went with the beef rib, with fried plantains and steamed spinach. Erin, meanwhile, got their special famous pork stew, which was basically jazzed up black beans with hunks of roasted pork and sausage. I don't know exactly what Portuguese cuisine usually consists of, but this mostly felt more Brazilian/Latin to me than anything Iberia-Peninsulan. But either way, it all tasted great. The beef was maybe a bit fatty, and it was all on the slightly pricey side considering this wasn't exactly the fanciest place in town. But I cleaned my plate and was sad when I finished, so I guess that qualifies as a success.

So, while I can't recommend you ever, ever go to Newark NJ for any reason, I do recommend that, if you do, you absolutely need to get to the Ironbound and eat some meat. You don't necessarily have to go to Sabor Unido, but really you may as well. Recomendado!

01.24.2019 - by Steve
Buffalo's FamousBrooklyn
Garbage plate

There's a Buffalo themed restaurant in my neighborhood. The city of Buffalo. Themed. We're talking wings, of course, and Bills helmets and Sabres jerseys. But they also serve a regional delicacy of upstate New York called the garbage plate. The dish was invented in a bar Rochester, apparently, as an efficient way to feed drunk college students, and can vary from bar to bar. But the basic makeup of the garbage plate is as follows: French fries as a base, a big scoop of macaroni salad (or beans), a hamburger patty or hot dogs, topped with a coney-style chili sauce either cheese or mustard. This was my first garbage plate experience—sadly in a NYC restaurant rather than actually up in Rochester or Buffalo—but I have to say, it was incredibly satisfying. I can't say that the ingredients all come together in some magical more-than-their-parts kind of way (like the garbage plate's cousin the Hawaiian plate lunch), but as long as you've got good fries and good chili and good everything else, hell yeah you've got a good garbage plate.

Also Buffalo's Famous has buffalo wings. There's nothing wrong with them, but whatever.

01.21.2019 - by Steve
Hometown BarbecueBrooklyn
Barbecue pulled pork

Hometown Barbecue, way out in Red Hook, is supposedly one of the best barbecue joints in New York. Eater even had it on its list of 37(ish) "essential" NY restaurants. So it's kind of a bummer that we went there on a whim—a very fast whim before grocery shopping right next door on some random Wednesday night—rather than really planning out and luxuriating in its barbecueness. What did I get? I got the pulled pork and baked beans. How was it? It was quite good, although maybe a little too wet, with all the cole slaw slopped on the top. And the beans had been seemingly been sitting in the bottom of their pot for too long, and just had that "thrice cooked" kind of taste. I couldn've lived without the beans. But, yeah, the sandwich was good from what I remember of it. But also nothing terribly remarkable. Really what it reminded me of was Green Street Meats in Chicago. Almost like the owners visited Green Street during the planning stages and said, "This is the barbecue place we want to be!" Right down to the service style and christmas-lights-in-old-warehouse decor. So for further detail, scroll back to, say, 2011, and read my Green Street Meats write-up. I'm sure it'll apply here.