05.31.2019
Sing Sinck Sing
Are Sing Sinck Sing

Sing Sinck Sing is a new project (are you keeping track?) of one of the ringleaders of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Efrim Manuel Menuck. It's a beauty, an intense collection of droning analog oscillators and maybe some guitars and some voices, still as harmonic as you might expect from the Godspeed guy. But what strikes me most about the Godspeed guy, as I've come to realize in the last couple years, is he really might be one of the best writers in music, which of course is ironic considering how most of his music is instrumental. I believe I went into detail about this theory back when I wrote up the latest Godspeed album, but just the song titles on this Sing Sinck Sing record are captivating to read. "Do The Police Embrace?" / "A Humming Void In An Emptied Place" / "Joy Is On Her Mount And Death Is At Her Side" / "Fight The Good Fight" / "We Will" (these last two on their own might sound too college-freshman on their own, but in the context of his decades of work there's a certain pugnacity in their basicness). Even the name "Sing Sinck Sing" is an enigmatic wordfuck.

05.30.2019
George McCrae
Rock Your Baby

I was shocked to learn, just last year, that Yo La Tengo's modern classic "You Can Have It All" is in fact a cover of an old 70s soul/disco song. I suppose it makes some sense; doing tasteful covers of record-bin classics is a longstanding part of Yo La Tengo's modus operandi, and the song always had a sprightly bounce that stood out on that album. Anyway, I found the original on YouTube, enjoyed it, and moved on with my life.

So then at the beginning of this week, I checked on in Stereogum's "Number Ones" article, part of a daily series running down every Billboard #1 single since the 1950s (it's truly a great series, giving new context to songs you've heard thousands of times, and offering some surprises as well. Recommended!), and that day's #1 was "Rock Your Baby", an early proto-disco hit by George McCrae. You've heard the song before, I'm sure, but as I was listening to it, something struck me: it sounded like Yo La Tengo. I mean, it didn't sound like Yo La Tengo—nobody was ever going to think "Rock Your Baby" was a deep cut from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, but it had this droning organ and crude synthetic drum that felt like something Yo La Tengo would do, as if "Rock Your Baby" was a part of their musical DNA, maybe from their youth. Then reading down the article a little, it's mentioned that McCrae is the one that originally recorded "You Can Have It All"! I had no idea that was his song when I made the connection from a different song! But really, something that George McCrae was doing seeped its way into those mad genius Hoboken Gen Xers 15 years later.

Part 3 of this tale is that while I was trying to unravel this "Rock Your Baby"/"You Can Have It All" situation, I found myself really, truly enjoying this record. Disco was just becoming a thing, and this (as you can read in that Stereogum article) was technically the first ever #1 song to be recorded specifically for disco clubs. But it doesn't have that gold-foiled, coked-out jumpsuit vibe that later disco would piledrive into the floor, it has some gentle soul to it. The whole album is a completely enjoyable listen, and I've been putting it on a lot this week. I'm not going to try to push some nonsense "George McCrae was a secret genius" line, because that's not the case—although "You Can Have It All" and "I Get Lifted" (later sampled on "Gin And Juice" and 100 other 90s hip hop tracks) are damn fine pieces of record-making. But this album is just a total pleasant surprise for me, and I'm going to keep coming back to it for a while.

05.29.2019
The Shins
Oh Inverted World

Imagine a world where the Shins released Oh Inverted World and then broke up or disappeared or perished in a plane crash or imploded into a black hole or whatever else would lead them to not release any music anymore. Also maybe Zach Braff also found that same fate in that same black hole. Oh Inverted World would be legendary today. Sure, it's always been admired and lauded to an extent, but I think that the subsequent years of consistently okay-to-good Shins releases have obscured it.

Listen to this album with fresh ears. It's phenomenal. Everything about it is perfect, from the unique melodies (I love when a songwriter is able to find paths through chords that are fully their own, like musical fingerprints, which James Mercer does—or did—better than nearly anyone else in indie rock at the time), to beautifully expressionistic lyrics, 90% of which I have no idea what they even are to this day, simple instrumentation just barely twisted into a lo-fi psychedelic audio palette, flawless sequencing, upbeat jams, melancholy ballads, and a very pretty (albeit very early 00s) cover. It's all so simple, yet composed and performed so beautifully that it becomes its own (inverted?) world.

I wrote something like this in my post on the last Shins album, but to sum up: the Shins never went Full Weezer. They haven't embarrassed themselves, they haven't released any duds or genre experiments or collaborations with Billy Ray Cyrus. But there's been a slow dulling of the edges, that started all the way back with their follow up to this one. Things got shinier, the simplicity disappeared into studio perfection, and when that became too boring and they tried to move back into scarier territory, they'd seemingly gotten too good to accidentally create a work of transcendence like Oh Inverted World.

This has never been my favorite album, or even on my all time top 10 (if I was to make such a list). I have no particular emotional bonds with it, despite listening to it a lot in college, but it's not a specific nostalgia trip for me. But when I listen to it now, it's like a hot knife into my ribs. It's so pure and good. I've never broken down crying listening to it, but I wouldn't be surprised if that happens at least once by the time I'm 70.

05.20.2019
Vampire Weekend
Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend's Blonde. But not their Blonde on Blonde. Or is it Blond? That's what the cover says. No, I think it's Blonde.

04.29.2019
Sunn O)))
Life Metal

The guys from Sunn O))) dress like wizards, but Steve Albini actually is one.

04.29.2019
Possible Humans
Everybody Split

Possible Humans are extremely Melbourne in that weirdly specific way that bands from Melbourne are. Dry and jangly and direct and melodic with just a hint of bitterness. The first few songs are great, but then I zone out a little, so I don't know.

04.29.2019
Billy Woods
Hiding Places

Billy Woods isn't the most charismatic, energetic, transformative, convivial, melodic, magnetic, revolutionary, or even entertaining rapper, but he writes like a damn Pulitzer winner. Three brief excerpts:

But the sun crept,
diggin' at that empty house as the shadow stretched
The dog ran off, didn't come back yet

Overseas connection choppy, she's gettin' worse
Your sister talked to the nurse, everybody in church
Everybody wants to know if you comin'
But they won't say the words

I don’t wanna go see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

These are just three kinda random pulls, but every song on this album plays out with the tension and release of a very good short story. And not in like a "um actually rappers are really storytellers have you ever listened to Ghostface?" kind of way. Even though Ghostface is great. But Billy Woods is on his own level as far as wordsmithing goes. And the beats he works with are dark, minimal, and weird, making this whole album a gripping listen, if not a very fun one.

04.20.2019
George Harrison
All Things Must Pass

Have you ever noticed that the second disc of All Things Must Pass really sucks?

04.18.2019
Brutus
Nest

Brutus is a metal (post hardcore?) band from Belgium, with a rare triple threat drummer-slash-frontwoman, who sounds exactly like Bjork destroying her vocal chords to At The Drive In. The first two songs they released convinced me this would be the album of the year, and the album art was even engaging enough that I hauled myself all the way to Williamsburg to buy a physical copy of it on its release day. Two weeks later, I'm already kinda bored with it. After the initial excitement of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to some steely, reverby heaviness, you get a little sick of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to steely reverby heaviness. And also it's not actually Bjork.

04.09.2019
Wyes Blood
Andromeda

This is a very lovely album of graceful Laurel Canyon-inspired writer-pop, lush pristine and precise, and that's all I really have to say about it at the moment. I just wanted to post this right away because the album cover is so nice that I want it up at the top of this blog for a while.

04.06.2019
These New Puritans
Inside The Rose

This new These New Puritans album isn't as good as that old These New Puritans album. But it's still real good, in a way that music in 2019 rarely is. Slow, thoughtful, intense. I'm not going to sit and write a big obituary for Talk Talk's Mark Hollis (which is a huge bummer, and he's every bit the genius all the other obituaries have made him out to be), but These New Puritans really do feel to me like a 21st century continuity of Hollis's late Talk Talk and solo work. Not at all in a soundalike way, but in the way that they seem spiritually in touch with each deliberate sound they make. I have issues with some of their choices that I don't with Hollis (such as, why are so many of their instruments electronically programmed instead of recorded in studio?), but the effect in the end is nearly always beautiful.

(Side note: The CD version of Inside The Rose has fantastically designed packaging. Clear sleeves, overlapping printing, a unique booklet. I know nobody really buys CDs anymore [of course not "nobody," but that's the standard line], but it's worth checking out if you're in to this kind of thing.)

04.06.2019
Moon Tooth
Crux

When Moon Tooth's Chromaparagon came out a couple years ago, I liked the shit out of it. It was easily in my top 2 or 3 or 5 albums of that year, and I actually listened to it. A ton. It took a while to fully embrace it, because at first blush their music leans pretty heavily into the lamest of muses. Incubus, for one. Alien Ant Farm (even though, look, I kinda like Alient Ant Farm). Tool (sigh, same). And especially Dillinger Escape Plan, who isn't necessarily lame, but they're not really at the cutting edge of metal in the 20-teens. If you weren't really paying attention, Moon Tooth could strike you as a marginally progressive nu metal or post hardcore band, and then you'd never think about them again. This is what I nearly did at first, but some of their music was just too interesting to ignore. The more I listened, the more even the initially eye-rolling parts started to reveal themselves as subtly brilliant. Drum patterns played with rhythm while guitar lines went to surprising places; riffs would morph into new forms instead of repeating ad nauseam, and actually revealed an unpredictable, Mastodon influence that wasn't initially apparent; the singer didn't just sounds like The Guy From Incubus, but he actually found surprising and soulful melodies within the band's chaotic churn. And perhaps most amazingly, given the state of metal over the last, oh, 25 years, their music is fun. It's energetic, affirming, and downright joyful.I swear I listened to this fucker once a week the entire year of 2016.

Then a month ago, as I hoped might happen (they're from Long Island, and I'm now here in New York), I caught them live at a heavy metal bar in Greenpoint. The bar was over half empty, which is maybe to be expected because it was a weekday night and they hadn't yet released their new record (that this review is ostensibly about), but most simply because Moon Tooth is not a popular band. Did you read the first couple sentences of this post? They're not cool, their music is not en-vogue, and they are basically ignored by the metal cook kids table. Still, it was a bummer to see how few people actually came out to see this band, because shit: they put on a show. They play with energy and feeling like you barely see these days, the singer constantly jumping into the crowd, running back and forth (even running back to the bar to sing directly to seated drinkers, who may or may not have even been there for the show), guitar player fucking feeling it. But they weren't just a bunch of douchebags hamming it up on stage. They were total pros. They played flawlessly, tight as hell, and exploding with energy. Honestly one of the best performances I've seen a band give in a long, long time. I was double sold.

And now their sophomore album Crux is out. Honestly there's nothing terribly surprising on it, no major stylistic shifts, no huge surprises, except maybe for the proggy-ass double-time King Crimson saxophone breakdown at the end of the opening track, or the Van Halen influence that shows up for brief moments on two different songs. But it's fucking great, from front to back, in a way that confirms everything I'd thought about these guys in the last couple years. And more; I'm honestly at the point right now that I feel comfortable calling Moon Tooth one of the best metal bands working today. Full stop. I don't think many other people will jump on that train, but whatever. Maybe they speak to me in a way they don't speak to other people. Maybe they need to get some high profile gigs to convince the tastemakers of their value. Maybe their bass player needs to stop wearing a backwards baseball hat.

Crux rules. Moon Tooth rules. I promise my next post won't be as long.

05.31.2019 - by Steve
Tacos El BroncoBrooklyn
Tacos

There's a running thread in my New York food adventures, which I may or may not have written about already, and you may or may not have read about already, and it's this: Mexican food isn't that great here. I can't say that's true across the board, as I'm sure there's some exceptional Mexican spots to be found somewhere, but it seems to suffer from the same problem as this town's pizza, bagels, and deli sandwiches. It's as if every place, whether it's a counter service taqueria, a sit down joint, or a truck, gets all the same ingredients from all the same distributors. But unlike pizza and bagels, where the redundant offerings are at least of generally high quality, the average New York taco is just mostly fine I guess.

This does bring us to the Tacos El Bronco truck, which you think might be a "but here's the exception!" moment, but naaah. It's just as okay as every other one. But then it becomes even more disappointing because just a few hours before stumbling upon the truck in Sunset Park, I'd just read El Bronco mentioned on a short list of Best Tacos In Brooklyn. So I had my hopes up, and it didn't happen for me.

05.30.2019 - by Steve
Philadelphia GrillBrooklyn
Philly cheesesteak

Cheesesteak: Pretty good. Employees: Extremely deep Brooklyn and kinda intimidating and probably named Vinny. View of bridge: Superb.

05.20.2019 - by Steve
Wafa's ExpressBrooklyn
Falafel bowl

There's a recent New York Times review framed and hanging on the wall of Wafa's Express that closes with one of the most overwrought and hilariously food-criticesque sentences you'll ever read: And the scent: orange blossom and rose water, in the ashta, in the syrup and in the air, like a benediction. It's a counter-service falafel and shawarma place for cripes sake! And yet, shit, it's not wrong?

05.11.2019 - by Steve
PelicanaBrooklyn
Korean fried chicken

Korean fried chicken is very much a thing, and within the world of Korean fried chicken, Bonchon is generally the thing. I had Bonchon once, and honestly wasn't terribly impressed. Pelicana, meanwhile, seems to be a second fiddle of Korean fried chicken chains; the Qdoba to Bonchon's Chipotle. There's a couple of them around here, the first I saw in a (three level) food court in Koreatown, the other taking up a quaint corner bar space in Fort Greene. And I gotta say, based on just a single trip to each, I like Pelicana better than Bonchon. Juicier, spicier, just as crisp in very Korean chicken kind of way. It was extremely satisfying. Maybe a little overkill on the sauce, but that's a lousy complaint.

Addendum: While I was writing this, I did some quick research and discovered there's a Bonchon location in Minneapolis?? And it's been there since 2017?? Why didn't I know this!

04.29.2019 - by Steve
MomofukuManhattan
Spicy pork belly ramen, sausage buns

The gist: Extremely hot ramen, sweaty bros next to us couldn't handle it, incredible sausage buns, chicken wings that looked unbelievable but where only just pretty good. Momofuku is for real and surprisingly affordable and accessible. Just maybe think real hard about going spicy.

04.29.2019 - by Steve
Tony Luke's Brooklyn
Philly cheesesteak

My quest for the best cheesesteak—both in New York and in America at large—was made somewhat easier recently when Tony Luke's, a seemingly beloved Philadelphia chain, opened their first out-of-Philly location in downtown Brooklyn. It was essentially happenstance that led me there, on only the 2nd day of their opening, even. So it was a little crowded. But I wanted a cheesesteak that day anyway (thus the happenstance), so I persevered, stood in line, and holed up at the standing bar in a corner to eat it. I will say this: Tony Luke's makes a very good cheesesteak. Probably the best I've had in New York so far, though the one from Shorty's was damn close. Easily better than the one I had at Geno's (or was it Pat's?) in Philadelphia, which isn't exactly the gold standard, but maybe more of a baseline for all cheesesteak judging. And the greasy Philly ambiance of the place is just weird enough—homemade ads for hilariously bad looking B-movies which Tony Luke Jr. himself seemingly produced and starred in adorn the walls, as well as pictures from his notable work as an extra in fucking Invincible starring Mark Walberg of fucking course—and the theme to Rocky plays on a loop from a TV up in the corner. So, come to think of it, you better go eat at Tony Luke's as soon as you can before all of the staff quits en masse.

04.06.2019 - by Steve
John's DeliBrooklyn
Johnny roast beef

I've been slowly eating through a list of Brooklyn's greatest old-school sandwich joints. This is a sandwich town, they say, and I'd like to think I'm a sandwich guy. I haven't posted about all of them on here, because basically they've all brought me to the same conclusion: pretty good I guess, but not amazing.

I can't make any conclusions of why this is. Maybe it's that everyone gets the same ingredients from the same distributors. Maybe they don't just make'em like they used to. Maybe they were never great to begin with? But even though I've gotten to visit some weird deep Brooklyn neighborhoods, heard some sweaty Brooklyn accents, and seen some fantastic old-school hand painted signage and menu boards (hey Lioni's), this sandwich odyssey has left me where I was when I started: The greatest sandwich I've ever eaten is still the roast beef from Clancey's Meats, and the greatest Italian sandwich I've ever eaten is still from (world's largest sigh) Jersey Mike's.

Anyway, the Johnny roast beef from John's Deli is at least interesting enough to post here. Just look at that photo. We've got some fresh sliced roast beef (although not as fresh as the aforementioned Clancey's), some caramelized onions, and a liberal helping of their "famous" beef gravy. It's simple, but it's not something you can find at the thousands of other delis around town. And it's tasty! And rich! But man, if this is really one of the great New York Sandwiches, I don't know what to think of this place anymore.

04.05.2019 - by Steve
Thai Farm KitchenBrooklyn
Kao thod nhaem klook, pad thai

The week we moved in to this apartment in the lovely Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, we ordered in some Thai food. As one does. I'd been warned in advance that the Thai food "scene" in New York isn't as good as you might expect, and that most places in town (with the exception of one particular restaurant in Queens, but we'll save that for another time) serve basically the same decent generic American Thai food you can get anywhere between here and Des Moines. So with expectations low, I was caught off guard by how good, and how unique the food from this Thai Farm Kitchen was. Nothing particular drew us to this place over the 3 or 4 other nearby options; it was just a new-ish, cute-ish little joint in the middle of our weird, not-quite-yet-gentrified Russian and Bangladeshi neighborhood. But the menu had some interesting options on it, and the food we got was all fantastic. We lucked out.

Fast forward, like, two months. I'm doing laundry across the street on a weekday night, and I notice there's a line out the door (mid-winter, mind you) at Thai Farm Kitchen. The next week it's the same. Then we try to go there to eat on a Saturday night—two hour wait. We try again a couple weeks later—hour and a half wait. The place is constantly packed. The secret is out, not so lucky anymore.

Turns out, as we guessed after the first couple attempts, that in fact the New York Times wrote a very positive review of the place, and that seems to be simultaneously a holy anointment and a kiss of death in this city. Great for them, because I'm sure they're suddenly making double the money the ever imagined making in their first year. But damn, we found our little place, and now we're stuck out in the cold!

Anyway, we finally got in the other night, and it was no fluke. The food is up there with the best Thai I've had anywhere, the menu is just left of standard (they serve their pad thai with fried calamari, which doesn't sound exciting, but it adds a lot!), and the staff is downright charming. By this time next year, we ought to be able to get a table there on a weekend again.

03.23.2019 - by Steve
Federoff's Roast PorkBrooklyn
Roast pork sandwich

Federoff's is a little slice of an eatery just off the annoying strip of Bedford in Williamsburg, humbly promising a Philadelphia away from Philadelphia, including cheesesteaks (of course), scrapple, and the true jewel of Philly cuisine, roast pork sandwiches. Really, the cheesesteaks and scrapple are of secondary concern; the roast pork is right there in the title.

Federoff's is doing everything right. The sandwich looked delicious, the pork was clearly fresh and roasted in house, as was the broccoli rabe, the hoagie roll is satisfyingly chewy without being tough, and the vibe of the place is full-on effortless charm. So why didn't I like it?

I didn't like it! it should've been amazing but I didn't like it! Issue one is that the pork, for as fresh and juicy as it was, simply tasted like pork fat. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be; I've only had one legit Philly roast pork before (see: Paesano's, which was amazing). But it just lacked any sort of seasoning that you'd expect in an ostensibly Italian roast. The Paesano's pork I ate last year was something closer to porchetta—porky, yes, but balanced with garlic, oregano, salt, all the good stuff. This Federoff's pork was almost as if they threw the pork shoulder in the oven totally bare and called it done, which left it not exactly bland, but in fact overwhelmed with an off-putting flavor of cheap pork fat. The next issue was in the broccoli rabe. It was bitter. Way too bitter. That's what you get with rabe when you don't do it exactly right, and apparently they didn't do it right. The Philly sandwich rabe is also usually full of garlic and lemon—something you can actually get at Italian delis all over Philly and New York—but this was just lacking. Total bitterness. Top it off (literally) with some pickled cherry peppers that didn't help any of the issues, and you've got a real disappointing lunch. I just sat there and ate in disbelief, because like I said earlier, it looked so good! It should've blew my mind. Maybe the scrapple will?

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!)