2021-05-09
Arooj Aftab
Vulture Prince

Arooj Aftab makes music that lands somewhere between Jose Gonzalez, Nick Drake, and Sade, all filtered through the melodic intuition of someone raised with a deep love and knowledge of her native Pakastani music. It's totally beautiful, and flawless from top to bottom. Even the somehow-not-regrettable reggae track.

2021-05-08
Cumbie
EP

A few years ago I fell in love with this English band called Trust Fund. They released 3 albums in fairly quick succession, and then more or less retired from music.

Cumbie sounds a weird amount like Trust Fund. Like if you told me one or two of these tracks were new (or archival) Trust Fund recordings, I wouldn't question it. But the one thing that sets Cumbie apart is that, every now and then, once or twice per song, they become metal. Like yeah the black metal logo and dark doomy cover artwork is kinda tongue-in-cheek, but also kinda not. You can tell that this band, for all their indie power pop punk jamming and twee sing-song melodicism, come from a place of long-haired, double-bass-pedal heaviness. They've got guts. So much so that those moments make me stop comparing them to Trust Fund. But then they start singing again and I can't get past it.

Cool little EP though. I think this band has the potential to do some killer stuff if they keep at it.

2021-05-08
Brother Guy
The Wavey Session 1

Here's a weird one!

Bandcamp earlier this week posted a little list of "Jam bands for people who don't like jam bands." Hey, I'm a person who doesn't like jam bands! So I scrubbed down the list, and it was mostly experimental, jazz-adjacent stuff that was interestingish, but not exactly "jammy." Then the last entry on the page, Brother Guy, appeared, with its wavy gravy cartoon bird cover art, its literal wavey title, and an actual hedging apology from the list's author. "Ok so this one actually sounds like a jam band, but hear me out!"

So I hit play on The Wavey Session 1, and yep it sounds like a jam band! But true to the spirit of the list, it felt different. A little looser, scragglier, a sense of people in a room jamming, missing notes, feeling each other out, all with something closer to an "indie" flavor rather than something more phishy. Like these guys had been playing all day, and were just a little sleepy and tired of trying to impress anybody.

It also went on for 42 minutes. One song. Like, really truly a jam, more or less on one chord progression, no vocals, one little hook of a melody that repeated throughout, and slowly changed and morphed. 42 minutes, and I enjoyed every one of them! Then the next track clocked in at 26, the next another 26, with an added sax section and a more hypnotic jazz vibe. But again, I really enjoyed all of it! I ended up listening to the entire collection later that day, and again the next day!

I don't even know what I'd point to as being remarkable with this band. They don't seem particularly talented, there's nothing going on here that's pushing any boundaries or creating any unique moments of transcendence. But they just play with such patience and ease that 40 minutes of one dang song breezes by in no time. I might even go buy part 2.

2021-05-04
WILD POWWERS
What You Wanted

I randomly stumbled on this band Wild Powwers (I will not style it as WILD POWWERS) on Bandcamp, just looking through their best sellers. Bandcamp: it's good.

Anyway not a ton to say about it, other than that it's another case of a heavy, grunge-inspired, female-fronted indie rock band that is just pitch-perfect in its presentation and construction. It's a damn pleasure to listen to. It vibes. But unlike last year's Pillow Queens, an equally pitch-perfect rock outfit, I don't really remember the songs. Unfair to compare to Pillow Queens because that album is seriously this close to being a modern classic, but WILD POWWERS (oops) just doesn't quite have the songwriting chops (or the Irish brogues) as that group.

Still! Rocks.

2021-04-29
Andy Stott
Never The Right Time

Andy Stott has appeared on my radar a couple times in the last few years, as the sort of moody, melodic, progressive electronic artist that might move the needle for me. I'm still not totally sold on his music (it's nice enough), but the album cover of Never The Right Time is so great that I just went ahead and bought it anyway.

2021-04-22
Horndal
Lake Drinker

This band sounds more like Mastodon than any band I've ever heard (other than Mastodon. And that includes Baroness, who I once claimed released that year's best Mastodon album*. This is a concept album about how a Google data center is destroying their blue collar Norwegian town and their lead singer sounds like a cartoon bear, and it all works incredibly well.

* This was a fucking harebrained and wrong statement for me to have made in the first place and I can't stop apologizing for making you read it. That was the year that Crack the Skye came out for cripes sake, which I've come to recognize is actually the best Mastodon album. I've also come to recognize that Baroness kinda stinks. Well they don't stink, but they're dull. I'm happy to let Horndal replace them in non-Mastodon years.

2021-04-22
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Revelator

"Midnight In Harlem" is still one of the most perfect things ever recorded. 10 years ago I posted about this album and was very carefully self-effacing about it, and yeah it's a corny song on a corny album from a corny band, but seriously. That song.

2021-04-17
Genghis Tron
Dream Weapon

If you don't remember Genghis Tron (and unless you're one of maybe, like, 2 people I can imagine reading this right now, you don't), I'm already too exhausted trying to explain their whole thing. Basically, like around 2004-05 or 08 or 09, this band appeared who played the most spastically, hellishly intense extreme hardcore-indebted metal, but combined it with Tron era, Kraftwerkian electro beatz. I mean, it's right there in their name, Genghis Tron. The whole thing easily could've played as a joke, but they somehow pulled it off in a way that felt legitimate. They were good. But after just one EP and two full lengths, I (and seemingly the band itself) decided I'd had enough Genghis Tron for a lifetime. Relegated to the fondly remembered but hardly revisited CD booklet of nostalgia.

15 years later, out of absolutely nowhere, they suddenly returned. And every 35+ music blogger and leftover Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan commenter said, in unison, "Holy shit I remember Genghis Tron!" Not only have they returned, but galdarnit they've grown up! They still play hard-ass metal with retro electronic foundations, but they've somehow now molded it into something entirely devoid of novelty. They now play adult music for adults. No more screaming, very few blast beats, cheeky synths replaced with chill synths. And it's good! Very good!

This music actually scratches a rare itch that very few metal bands are able to find. It's the idea of heavy music that soothes. The guitars tear, the drums pound, but the ultimate effect is more hypnotic than aggro. It's chill. The debut from the band Astronoid a couple years ago hit this sweet spot, and Deafheaven occasionally gets there when they aim that way. But it's really rare to hear a band succeed at stiff as a board, light as a feather. Especially impressive when you think about Genghis Tron's original releases, which were entirely about knocking you senseless and spinning you dizzy.

2021-04-14
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra
Promises

Alluring, angelic, beautiful, brilliant, colorful, dazzling, delightful, divine, elegant, exquisite, glorious, gorgeous, handsome, heavenly, impressive, lavish, lovely, luxurious, magnificent, majestic, opulent, pleasing, pulchritudinous, ravishing, resplendent, splendid, stunning, sublime, sumptuous, superb, transcendent, triumphant, wonderful, wondrous, okay hold on I have to think of something that starts with Z.

2021-04-14
serpentwithfeet
DEACON

For years I've thought that serpentwithfeet was a caustic experimental, bleeding-edge electronic producer—someone like an Arca or Oneohtrix Point Never or Forest Swords. Turns out he lands much more between an Antony and Frank Ocean and Sampha, a heart-on-sleeve, unrepentantly queer, unrepentantly black, unrepentantly musical songwriter, with a capital U and Q and B and M and S to all of that. Yeah there's an edge to a lot of it still (I guess he used to do more grim electronic stuff), but some of the songs on here come off as practically cute. "Me and my boo wear the same size shoe." Come on, that's sweet.

Great album. The kind of album that makes me think somebody should be massively popular and successful but probably won't get there until he's sanded off all the edges.

2021-04-12
Ryley Walker
Course In Fable

Ryley Walker has proven himself a master producer, performer, arranger, interpreter, creator, instrumentalist, improvisor, stylist, mind. He can do it all, and his taste is consistently impeccable. But what he isn't a master of is songwriting. Everything else is there, everything sounds amazing, layered beautifully, played with heart, everything is interesting. But the actual melodies and progressions and words seem to always hit a little flatter than you'd expect. Not that he writes in a way that's simplistic or derivative, but he just seems to be searching and circling to find the song in his work, and finding a whole lot of other cool things, but never actually landing on it.

This is all laid bare in his full album of Dave Matthews Band covers from a couple years ago. Say what you will, of course, about Dave Matthews, but they had songs. When Ryley Walker went full steam into covering and interpreting and rearranging those songs, the results were truly incredible. Better than anything DMB ever released on their own (stripping away all of that band's magniloquent regard of their own material), and easily the best thing that Walker's ever released.

This record is good. I like listening to it. It takes you on a dozen different journeys, and like everything Walker records, there are layers to dig through every time you listen. I just can't wait for the day that he cracks his own cipher and figures out how to write a song. He'll be unstoppable.

2021-04-11
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!

I won't waste your time telling you how good this new Godspeed album is. It's exactly as good as you want it to be.

But what I will tell you is I think it might be Godspeed's most rock album. Parts of this thing sound like it could be Pink Floyd. In a good way. The best way. Fuck, I just thought about what would happen if GYBE got David Gilmour to sing on an album.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor would kill me and burn my body if they found out I compared them to Pink Floyd.

2021-04-11
Bruiser Wolf
Dope Game Stupid

Last week I heard one song from this Bruiser Wolf character ("I'm An Instrument"), and thought it was honestly one of the more unique sounding hip hop songs I've heard in a long time. In fact it's just occurring to me now that it reminds me of The Avalanches "Frank Sinatra" from a few years back, which ironically (or not) featured Danny Brown, who is also featured on "I'm An Instrument," and who runs the label that discovered and signed Bruiser Wolf.

So I heard the song, and had no idea whether I actually liked it. Yeah it was unique and kinda fun, but also a little grating and not particularly deep. I said "well that was interesting," and moved on, with no real interest in diving deeper into Bruiser Wolf.

By the end of that day I had listened to the song 4 more times and bought the whole album. And every other track is almost as interesting as that one.

2021-04-11
The Vernon Spring
A Plane Over The Woods

Solo jazz piano that's as profoundly chill as something like Grouper, but with chops.

I think there's an entire ecosystem of quiet piano solo projects floating out there on Spotify and Bandcamp, to fill up late night homework playlists, and otherwise make the artists who recorded them feel like they're making something sublime and heady. Mostly it's just people playing minor chords very slowly and maybe adding a lot of room tone. This, though. This feels different. This guy (I don't think his name is Vernon) can actually play. Of course these references are completely overselling it, but the quick names that come to mind are Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. Take the quietest, sleepiest, patientest Evans and Jamal recordings you can imagine, run them through Grouper's 4 track, and maybe let William Basinski accidentally let some of the tapes melt, and you have In The Aeroplane Over The Sea A Plane Over The Woods.

Oh and one track he plays like Alice Coletrane, which is also cool.

2021-05-10
Bistro EloiseQueens
Croque madame

If you came to visit me in New York and I told you I was taking you to a quaint little French bistro, and then you looked around at the parking lot and the PetCo and Modell's and dialysis place and the bad pizza place and the worse Chinese place and ask me why I've taken you to this godawful strip mall in the middle of Queens. There's a very good chance you won't even see the quaint little French bistro in the corner, between the grocery store and the dental office. But then you'll eat your croque madame and French onion soup and mushroom chicken crepe and say "Yeah that was pretty good, but maybe let's go somewhere a little less depressing next time."

2021-05-10
The JinManhattan
Korean fried chicken

It was mostly happenstance that I ended up eating at The Jin, over kinda in Hell's Kitchen. Korean fried chicken, a small bit of other Korean fare, chill place, pretty standard, nothing to see here. The chicken was pretty dang good, but again, nothing out of the ordinary as far as these places go, nothing to see here.

But the next day. I tell you, this was probably the best leftover cold chicken wing I've ever had. They just held up perfectly overnight, didn't dry out or thicken up like wings tend to do. Dang good leftover wing.

2021-05-09
CardamomQueens
Vindaloo, xacutti

It's 2021, it's May, you know what that means! It's time for the new Michelin Bib Gourmand list!

No, I didn't know what that was either. Basically you know the Michelin list, right? With the stars? So they do this other thing were they collect other "little" restaurants to feature, that might not have the epicureal horsepower of the starred places, but are cheaper, easier, and usually more neighborhoody. Like, not hole-in-the-wall mom-n-pops (but sometimes those too), but places just a step up from that.

So Cardamom is an Indian restaurant just a few trains stops down from here, and as you probably guessed, it made it onto the Bib Gourmand list this year. So we gave it a shot! (Actually there are 3 or 4 within walking distance of here that made it, but we were just in the mood for Indian that night). The elevator pitch with Cardamom is that it specializes in food from the Goa state of India, which I guess has some leftover Portuguese influence. Honestly the menu didn't seem so much different than other Indian places. But whatever! Also, taking the Michelin recommendation into account, I wouldn't say it was that much better than most above-average Indian places. But whatever! It was still good!

Maybe I'll program some fancy function into this site that makes a lil Michelin Guide icon appear for all Michelin approved restaurants. See also: Phayul (like a 5 minute walk from here), Omlstead (surprised that it didn't get a "real" Michelin star TBH), and Caleta 111 (my #1 meal of last year!)

2021-05-09
Blue CornPhiladelphia
Brisket tostadas

Philadelphia, a city known for its cheesesteaks and roast porks and pretzels and hoagies, is a heavily Irish and German town. But down in South Philly is dense, historic, and very active Italian neighborhood, surrounding one strip of compact storefronts and awnings covering the entire sidewalk, brimming with classic Italian trattorias and pork stores and ravioli shops. Within this Italian strip, you'll find Blue Corn, one of the best Mexican restaurants I've had in a while.

Wheels within wheels. Layers upon layers. Philadelphia is here to surprise you.

2021-05-04
Bún DCWashington DC
Lemongrass chicken vermicelli bowl

Beyond the Twin Cities, I'd always heard that the two other big Vietnamese food hot spots in the country are San Jose and Washington DC. Turns out that DC is partially true, in that most of it is out in the Virginia suburbs. But on our recent weekend whirlwind trip through town, we did find one place, Bún DC, which came as highly recommended as anything out in Arlington or Falls Church. And it was great! Just the tiniest step up from "hole in the wall," on the first floor of a duplex, not really surrounded by much else, they serve fairly standard Vietnamese fare which is also just the tiniest step up from standard. Presentation matters! Particularly their pho, which had some extra bite and peppery, cinnamony shape which, had I not known it was pho, might've made me guess it was something closer to a Japanese curry ramen. Delicious though.

Anyway, DC is weird, but Bún DC is good.

2021-04-22
Maison PickleManhattan
French dip

Best french dip I've ever eaten.

2021-04-22
Tessey's International KitchenThe Bronx
Jerk chicken

Back in Brooklyn I lived near all of the Jamaican and Caribbean food you could ever dream of eating. Much of it was very good. Some of it was pretty good. This place however, in the middle of the Bronx, not necessarily in a particularly dense Jamaican neighborhood, is the best jerk chicken I've had in the city. Just about perfect in every way. And the rice too! And the mac and cheese! So often when you get mac and cheese at a take out place, it's sort of half-assed, not quite homemade, a little off. This mac and cheese was perfect. Creamy in the middle, with that good caramelized skin on top and on the edges. Top tier stuff all the way around at Tessey's International Kitchen.

And like yeah, I know it's in the Bronx (nowhere near Yankee Stadium, but sorta near the zoo I guess), and there's a near-100 percent chance you're never going to eat here. But if you do find yourself near Pelham Parkway, you just remember you read this.

2021-04-17
Khong GuanQueens
Orange Cream Biscuits

I'm obsessed* with these orange cream biscuits. They're kinda like orange Oreos (omg could you even imagine?), but instead of the standard Oreo cookie, it's something closer to a cracker or a vanilla wafer. Keebler and Pepperidge Farm vibes, but those brands have never had the guts to experiment with orange. Anyway they're from the Khong Guan brand, and if you go to your local Chinese/Asian grocery store, there's a decent chance you can find them. Usually they keep all the Khong Guan products together in the snack aisle, just look for the white packages with the thin graph pattern that you probably had on your bed sheets in 1991. They're so good, not too sweet, I could eat one a day for the rest of my life.

* I hate when people say they're "obsessed" with things like orange cookies. I'm not actually obsessed. Don't worry.

2021-04-17
The QueensboroQueens
Eggs benedict

That thing I said down there about diner breakfasts? The same goes for bougie brunch spot breakfasts.

2021-04-14
969 NYC CoffeeQueens
Chicken katsu onigiri sandwich

I don't understand anything in this city sometimes. There's this place literally one block from my apartment, it's practically invisible, off the main drag, on the first floor of an apartment building, next to an equally invisible international shipping agency, you'd easily walk by and think nothing of it. 969 NYC Coffee. Dirty old yellow awning with a clip art coffee cup on it. Is it even open? Has anyone ever actually purchased coffee there? Is it an insurance scam? A drug front?

No, it's a Japanese snack shop a tea house, where a former gourmet chef from Tokyo makes onigiri and sushi and matcha tea and sells them for next to nothing out of a fridge. He also makes what I can only call "onigiri sandwiches", basically a big sushi roll packed sandwich style, with the rice and nori as a bun. It's all delicious and well made, and so cheap that my questions about it being an insurance scam and drug from still persist. But it's amazing to know that it's there.

2021-04-11
Skylight DinerManhattan
Cheese omelette and sausage

It's been so long since I've sat in a diner and eaten breakfast. So long. You know this, why am I telling you? We've all gone through this shit at the same time, I don't need to sit here and tell you how much I missed eating breakfast in a diner.

This very average omelette and sausage links and home fries at the very average Skylight Diner in Chelsea on a very average Saturday morning was the absolute best kind of average. I loved it and I can't wait to do it again.

2021-04-11
Joey Bats CafeManhattan
Pastéis de nata

Just need to update you that I ate another pastéis de nata. This one at the incomprehensibly named Joey Bats Cafe in the Lower East Side. It's far hipper than the Teixeira Bakery in Newark, more expensive than the Teixeira Bakery in Newark, but not as good as the Teixeira Bakery in Newark.

Don't get me wrong, it was good. If you're in the Lower East Side and want a pastéis de nata, by all means absolutely do it. You'd be crazy not to. But if you can only eat one pastéis de nata this year (that would be a weird situation... what would lead to that?), get yourself to Newark.

2021-03-28
Chip CityQueens
Cookies

I was out near Long Island City the other day and wanted a cookie, so I did what anyone in my position would do and I searched "cookies" in Google Maps. This place called Chip City came up, and I eventually found it, a tiny little storefront on the first floor of some new development mixed-use building. Basically just a little bakery case with just 4 trays of cookies, maybe they had a coffee machine and a fridge of milk or something, a cash register, one employee, and that was that.

What I didn't know until just now is that Chip City (as far as I can tell?) primarily markets itself as a home-delivery cookie dough company. Direct-to-consumer, disrupting the cookie dough industry, all that. I bet they've at least discussed sponsoring a podcast. But this just happened to be one little local outlet—possibly even connected to their main kitchen? Who knows.

Anyway their cookies are oddly massive—thick like a muffin top or a dang scone or something. But I gotta say, they were good! I worried they'd be either overcooked on the outside or overly dense on the inside, but no, they were go good consistency all around! Just absolutely way too huge, especially since I (oops) bought 4 of them. Two chocolate chip, one s'mores, and one peanut butter & jelly. How have I never had a PB&J cookie before? Seems so obvious! I'll go ahead and say the s'mores was the best, and maybe chocolate chip, followed by the PB&J. But they were all good!

They won't exist beyond 2021.

2021-03-23
Teixeira's BakeryNewark
Pastéis de nata

Did I write a while back about Newark's surprisingly extensive Portuguese neighborhood? Hopefully I did because I don't want to get into it here. The short version: a ton of Portuguese immigrants moved to New Jersey in the early 20th century (around the same time as the Italians), and many settled in this one neighborhood called (seriously) the Ironbound. Everywhere you look there are Portuguese and Spanish restaurants, as well as a number of Brazilian and other South American ones. It's wild; I certainly haven't been to any other Portuguese enclave in this country. I'm sure one exists, but I don't know where.

So we were in the area this weekend, and had pastéis de nata on our mind. Pastéis de nata is a small flaky pastry filled with custard and browned on top, like a little bite sized tort. From what I can tell, they're wildly popular in Europe (particularly in England), and are one of the first things anyone thinks of when they think "Portuguese food." Not sure if they've fully caught on in the US yet. Have you heard of them? Is this news to you?

Anyway, of the number of Portuguese bakeries in the Ironbound, this place Teixeira's seemed to be the best rated...

(Siggggggh, I'm realizing there's a much longer story here about our trip to Teixeira's, involving vehicle collisions and angry Newarkers and us making an audacious escape from the city, but I just don't have the energy to type the whole thing at the moment. I'll just skip to the end...)

...Teixera's is amazing and their pastéis de nata is absolutely worth the hype and New Jersey drivers are indisputably the worst in the country.

2021-03-16
Mom's MomoQueens
Momos

Some day in the moderately-near future, I'll be able to sit down and construct my Best Momos list. Mom's will be on this list. Not very high, but it'll be on there.