10.29.2019
Big Thief
Two Hands

Big Thief took over the world this year, and I'm totally fine with that. There's probably a good chance someone has tried to sell them on you, or that you're already fully sold (more likely), so instead of going down the bullet points of why Big Thief rules, just do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIcVwH47uxQ

10.29.2019
Young Guv
Guv II

Surprise, it's a new Young Guv album! Guv I came out of nowhere onto my radar, and I love it, dreamy jangly power pop at its finest, "There She Goes"-as-genre. Top 5 of the year for sure. So now Guv II comes out of nowhere, and it's also good but not as good but still good but not gonna be Top 5.

10.11.2019
Wilco
Ode to Joy

If Wilco The Album and The Whole Love and Star Wars and Schmilco never happened, and Ode to Joy was the follow up to Sky Blue Sky, I'd probably be confused and disappointed by it. But it would at least make sense. But those other albums did of course happen, and they've all left me in varying states of frustration and ambivalence, be it from Album and Love's lack of new ideas and general dispassion, or Star Wars and Schmilco's stubborn dryness. But Ode to Joy finally feels right. None of its individual songs—"Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" perhaps excluded—are nearly to the level of their catalog leading up to this 'frustration and ambivalence' era, but the album as a whole is refreshingly engaging. It contains little mysteries which I don't even know are there until they've hooked me, and it keeps inviting me back, and I'm happy to oblige. But most refreshing of all is that like every great Wilco album (which, again, is basically all of them up until those other ones), this feels like its own world. It has its own palette and speaks its own language. Yeah it kinda borrows some sounds from Star Wars and Schmilco, but it actually does something with them. Even the album cover works.

10.10.2019
Opeth
In Cauda Venunum

Jag vet inte vad "In cauda venenum" betyder på svenska, men jag antar att det är något som "minskar avkastningen."

10.05.2019
Sandro Perri
Soft Landing

Sandro Perri plays 20 minute soft rock mantras which land somewhere between Brian Eno and Pat Metheny, and I promise that's a good thing.

09.23.2019
Jay Som
Anak Ko

A cool and welcome trend in young new indie rock bands in the last year or two is the noticeable influence of dreamy early-mid 90s groups like the Sundays, the La's, the Cocteau Twins, and the Cranberries. The new Young Guv album, just a few posts down from here, is one of my favorite albums of the year, and it's basically an example of "There She Goes" as genre.

The influence is welcome, because while those bands certainly traded in a mood (serene) and a style (jangly), they were also resolutely melodic. They've got songs.

Jay Som has one song. On this album at least. "Superbike" rules. Depending on what angle your head is tilted, it could be a Sundays song, or a Cranberries song, or a La's song. Serene, check, jangly, check, resolutely melodic, double check. Nothing else here really stacks up, and on about half he tracks they seem to be aiming for something else entirely, which, fine, but we all know what's up. It's right there. How do you record "Superbike" and not say "Oh shit, this is it"? Then again, the La's recorded "There She Goes" and then disappeared entirely.

09.10.2019
Tool
Fear Inoculum

The thought of sitting at my keyboard and typing out my thoughts about this album is fucking exhausting.

08.22.2019
Young Guv
Guv I

The original selling point with me and Young Guv was that it's the side project of Ben Cook, the main guitarist from Fucked Up. One of the main selling points of Fucked Up, of course, is that underneath the throat-destroying hardcore vocals is a bunch of super layered, pan-genre, too-pretty-for-hardcore guitar work. So the idea of hearing what Cook has up his sleeve for his own non-hardcore project, even one with as dumb of a name as Young Guv, is enticing.

So Fucked Up got me into the door, but what happened next is that I can't stop listening to this dang thing. I've already thrown away any association I have with that other band, and am enjoying this record on repeat (seriously, I listened to it about 6 times in the first couple days) solely as one of the best power pop albums I've heard in a long time. I'm sure every review of it out there has used the word "jangly," but that's only because thing thing is jangly as fuck! So yeah, Cook knows how to layer a guitar or two, but he can also write a hell of a melody. and I cannot get enough of it. Kind of like Nude Beach a few years ago, it's just an album that hooks into you, feeling like you've been hearing these songs for years, even though you don't remember where they came from.

Fucked Up? More like Thumbs Up!

08.09.2019
Elder
The Gold & Silver Sessions

Elder rules and this is a quick one-off instrumental EP they did where they just kinda jam for a while and Elder rules.

08.05.2019
Miracle Legion
Surprise Surprise Surprise

You probably remember—fondly, I assume—The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You probably fondly remember the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You might not necessarily remember that the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete was called "Hey Sandy," and was by a band called Polaris. (Side note: If you were me, you probably spent almost 20 years thinking that Polaris was a local Minneapolis band, because you confused them with an actual Minneapolis band called Polera. But you aren't me). You might, after fondly remembering all of these things, go and look into Polaris's other music, but you'll find very little. But the one important thing you will find is Miracle Legion.

Polaris wasn't really a band; it was a one-off side project made up of a couple members of Miracle Legion, a New Haven based indie rock band which had released a couple college rock radio hits in the mid and late 80s and gathered a respectable regional following, as well as more than a few comparisons to their mid-late-80s indie rock peers R.E.M. In the mid 90s, when the makers of Pete and Pete—two of those devoted regional fans—wanted to get Miracle Legion to write and perform the theme song to the show, they discovered that they were just a bit too late; the band was basically on the verge of breaking up. Instead, Mark Mulcahy and the one or two other members that didn't currently hate each other got together under the name Polaris to record for the show.

The rest is history I guess. Except that Polaris never gained a following or recorded any other albums, and hordes of Nickelodeon fans didn't exactly flood record stores to pick up any Miracle Legion albums. But I did. 20 years later at least. And I'm absolutely delighted. Miracle Legion's discography is a secret cache of beautifully sentimental indie pop, sitting there unspoiled waiting for us. I'm probably more primed for this type of music than I might've been in previous years thanks to my recentish deep dive into R.E.M., because, yes, the old complaint is that they do sort of sound like R.E.M. But also not; Mulcahy's voice and vocalizations and lyricism immediately stands apart (not saying it's better, just apart) from Stipe's, even if some of the jangly, arpeggiating, clean electric guitar sounds and slightly wet straightforward drumming might, sure, come off a little Athens. But I've already wasted too much text talking about the comparison.

I've liked what I've heard from their few other albums, but I absolutely love Surprise Surprise Surprise. It's not the catchiest thing you've ever heard—I couldn't even hum you any of its melodies right now if I tried—but the mood and depth and sheer competency of the whole thing is a breath of fresh air. It's adult music. Maybe that speaks to how they never 'made it,' because there's no easy takeaways here for teenagers of the time to latch on to (as they did with that other band that keeps coming up), no obvious hit singles, nothing really in particular that would make them stand out. But hearing it now, at this age, it's clearly a special record, an honest record, and one that is giving me a singular sensation of feeling like it's been missing from my life until now. I mean, that sounds pretty dramatic I guess, but it's true.

I have a whole other paragraph to write about the serendipity of finding Surprise Surprise Surprise on vinyl at Academy Records the other week, but this post is so dang long already I'll not bore you with that. Just, hey, Miracle Temple is a miracle. That's not a pun.

07.29.2019
Joanna Sternberg
Then I Try Some More

Then I Try Some More initially excited me. It's a folk album that actually sounds like folk, not just some quiet singing over some guitary strums. It has real melodies, sing songy in the way that Woody Guthry and Burl Ives were, these trusty prehistoric song structures that have been sitting around waiting to get used again. Sure, she sings a shit lot like the other Joanna, and occasionally even maybe borrows a melodic line now and then, but that's okay because the other Joanna was just borrowing it from Joni Mitchell anyway, kind of a white elephant thing.

The problem is that these songs are bummers. There's a dark pessimism, bordering on depression, in just about every song here—but not the tortured-poet Elliott Smith kind of pessimism that makes you dream about being in a punk in LA or something. This is more of a "I'm young and the world sucks and nobody around me understands the real pain I'm in" kind. Just look at that album title. I'm not complaining that it's some phony, put-on pain to write songs, you can feel the real tendrils of sadness here. It's all too real. Even her singing voice sounds like a scared person holding back tears. And my 2nd or 3rd time through the album, I just hit the wall. I can't do it anymore. Joanna Sternberg is going to break through whatever darkness helped create this album, and I'll be there to listen to it. But for now I'm going to put it on the shelf with A Crow Looked At Me and feel okay with not basking in someone else's pain.

07.25.2019
Nilufer Yanya
Miss Universe

Nilufer Yanya, along with Mitski and American Pleasure Club, sounds to me to be the fully formed identity of what guitar based music of the post-millennial, fully-online 21st century youth sounds like. They've grown up with the monogenre, plugged in to any and all music whenever they want, hyper produced pop and rap ruling the airwaves (whatever that might mean anymore), seeing Kanye, Gaga, Beyonce, BTS, and a very old Rivers Cuomo as the biggest rock stars in the world, probably embarrassed that they used to be into Imagine Dragons and Maroon 5 when they were younger, and eventually having their minds blown and eyes opened by, seemingly, St. Vincent. It's a youth that's basically foreign to me, but it's interesting to hear how it's been filtered through their music. Live and programmed drums are interchangeable; guitars are processed to the point of sounding like synths; synths are processed to the point of sounding like guitars; the singing is far more indebted to modern R&B coyness than balls-out rock wailing; some songs rock, some songs pop, and they're trying very hard to sound like they're not really trying (so I guess things haven't really changed since my youth).

This Nilufer Yanya album, specifically, blurs all the lines. I'm actually a little bummed by that, because a couple songs in the front half of the album (particularly "In Your Head") are totally solid rock songs that are unafraid of melody and hooks in a way that a lot of 90s and 00s rock were certainly not. But it seems the second side of the record loses interest in guitars and drums and just throws a bunch of synthy pop jams at the wall, and suffers for it. Still, there's something pure and "new" about what Yanya (and Mitski and APC) is doing, and it officially makes me old.

07.07.2019
Black Midi
Schlagenheim

Black Midi (or, if you're following their their own style guide, black midi) appeared in England this year, as English bands occasionally do, surrounded by some of the most hyperbolic praise you've ever heard, fully mysterious, mercurial, seemingly ready to redefine the very nature of guitar-based Western music as we know it. But this was only coming from people who'd seem them at one of their many infamous live shows at random London clubs over the course of the year; they had recorded nothing so there was no other way to judge.

Then they released a couple songs, and it was like, "Oh shit. This might be for real."

Then they released a few more, played some American shows (in Minneapolis of all places!), and did a full performance filmed for KEXP, and the mystery wasn't quite as mysterious anymore. But they were clearly still very talented and just bathed in potential.

Then they released their debut LP Schlagenheim, and all the hype and potential and insanity has turned into something far more simple: Black Midi is a very good mathy post-hardcore band. They don't sound like nothing we've ever heard before; they sound like Battles, they sound like Shellac, they sound like At the Drive In, they sound like Hella. But! They sound like Black Midi too. And they sound very very good. The other thing about this group is that they're all babies—teenagers when they started, they're all 20 or 21 now—but they sound like they've been playing with each other for a decade. Absolutely tight, absolutely slotted.

There is some "jazz" in their music, in that they're listening to one another and I'm sure there's improvisation at work, even though I'd not want to push that angle too far. They're just 4 fucking talented instrumentalists totally locked in and not afraid to make weird, heavy music in 2019. No, they're not changing the game or redefining the meaning of music in the 21st century, but they're running laps around a lot of the other bands who tried to do what they're doing 10 years ago, when it was a cooler thing to do. So shit, I'll allow them some hype for that.

This time next year they'll be broken up. I'm sure of it.

10.29.2019 - by Steve
Kensington Kosher DeliGreat Neck
Pastrami on rye

This was an unexpected but welcome find, a legit New York style Jewish deli—and a dive at that—in the middle of small town Long Island. Well, not as much small town as profoundly wealthy suburb, but it was nonetheless quaint, delicious, and about half the price of those big city Jewish delis you've heard so much about.

10.29.2019 - by Steve
TaïmManhattan
Falafel

Good falafel, good toppings, a good pita, multiple locations. This is a short food post.

10.28.2019 - by Steve
Buttermilk ChannelBrooklyn
Duck meatloaf

Hey now we're on a roll! After months of eating things and saying "Hmm, nothing's really blown me away in this city yet," first came Olmstead's blueberry scallops, and now Buttermilk Channel's duck meatloaf. Nothing's going to top those scallops, but this meatloaf is easily the #2 best thing I've eaten this year. And like the scallops, it comes with a sweet fruity reduction—cherry, to be specific. Nothing else too crazy about it, although I'm not sure what percentage of it was actually duck (it can't be 100%, right? That's a lotta duck. I imagine there's some pork or something in there too). Otherwise just some roasted rutabaga and some arugula, but damn it was good. Everything else we had at Buttermilk Channel—their 'famous' fried chicken and some leek soup—was totally fine but not remarkable. But the meatloaf made it all worth it.

10.10.2019 - by Steve
Sardi'sManhattan
French onion soup

Sardi's is one of those famous old Manhattan joints that you've probably seen in a movie and has probably been referenced on Seinfeld where the bartenders wear bowties and there are autographed celebrity caricatures all over the walls and you can go sit and pay way too much for a drink after seeing a Broadway show. I can't speak for the drinks, but their world famous French onion soup was totally decent, as were the meatballs. And you know what? It was nice! It was a nice chill pleasant evening in a weird old bar, which is actually a pretty rare thing in the middle of Times Square's nonsense.

10.05.2019 - by Steve
MomochoCleveland
Nachos

Some guy at the USA Today ranked the best ballpark food in America, and gave the #1 spot to the Momocho nachos at Jacobs Field. I'm in a perfect position to weigh in on this, since I've recently been to Cleveland for a baseball game, and ate those very nachos. But I'm not going to bother because the Twins are destroying me again and I don't like baseball anymore and what's the point of nachos if happiness is an illusion?

10.05.2019 - by Steve
Duffy'sStaten Island
Cheeseburger

I'm writing this communique to report to you that Duffy's Bar in Staten Island does not serve the best burger in New York.

Like, of course they don't, but reading the sensational reviews of this place online from Staten Islanders, I was ready to buy-in and be the weirdo who goes around telling people "um actually there's this place in Staten Island that low key makes the best burgers in this town!". But, no. It's a great little place though, a just-barely-nicer-than-a-dive local Irish bar with NYFD shit all over the walls (fucking of course) and rectangular shaped men with giant thumb heads and seeerious accents complaining about the Jets at the bar. And hey, the burger is good. But I was a fool to think I'd find the best burger in town by taking the ferry and biking 7 miles into the West St. Paul of New York City.

09.21.2019 - by Steve
Beefrria-LandiaQueens
Birria mulita taco

OMG I had a long, detailed and riotously entertaining post written here that you would've loved, but I accidentally lost it. So here's the short version:

For the last year I've been seeing these amazing tacos on Instagram. They're stuffed with shredded beef and cheese and grilled like a quesadilla, but then folded like a taco and totally doused with a spicy looking liquidy red pepper sauce. The final product is—forgive me for sounding like a hack copyrighter here—mouth watering. Every time I see one on Instagram, I want to eat one immediately. The problem is, without exception, every single one I've seen posted is from somewhere in Los Angeles.

A little research confirmed this. What we're dealing with is a birria mulita, and while they've existed in a few small areas of Mexico for a while, they've just recently taken the Los Angeles truck and taqueria scene by storm. But I'm in New York the Greatest City In The World!, I shouted to God, surely we must have these too!. So after a year of not being in LA to eat one of these motherfuckers, I google "birria mulita taco New York," and was greeted with a minor miracle. Just a few days earlier, the city's very first birria truck opened in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Just a week later, we found ourselves conveniently (and accidentally, I swear) in Jackson Heights. It was 4:55, and the truck opened at 5:00. We saw it pull in to its spot. We walked around the block to give them time to set up. We returned to find a line of 10 people ahead of us. My god, I'm clearly not the only one who was desperate for these things.

In a rare surprise, it was everything I'd hoped for. Rich, spicy, luscious, profound. Easily the best Mexican food I've had in this city so far.

Sometimes things are good.

09.10.2019 - by Steve
Jay & Lloyd's Kosher DeliBrooklyn
Pastrami on rye, potato latke

I found a real, classic New York Jewish deli in Sheepshead Bay! You can tell it's authentic because the sandwiches are $24 each and a little bit disappointing. Good coleslaw though.

09.06.2019 - by Steve
Prince's Hot ChickenNashville
Nashville hot chicken

Nashville is a terrible city and Nashville hot chicken is overrated.

09.06.2019 - by Steve
Esker GroveDowntown Minneapolis
Chicken

Esker Grove is one of the highest rated new restaurants in Minneapolis, but we had a very odd experience there. Weird service, slow service, a drastic and constant gust of wind coming through the propped-open patio door, the general feeling that something was off. And my chicken wasn't that great. But that's on me for ordering chicken at a fancy restaurant. Never do that.

09.06.2019 - by Steve
Burger KingBrooklyn
Impossible Whopper

I'm sorry, but I'm allowing Burger King to infiltrate the unblemished columns of Music & Food. But it's for an important reason, which is that one afternoon I suddenly realized the world is falling apart and my fat guy is complicit, and the best way to make it better is to go eat an Impossible Whopper.

I hadn't had one of these Impossible things yet, even though they're starting to get advertised everywhere. I think even White Castle is doing them? Anyway, I have to say, they do a fine job of being burger-like. Right before my first bite, I got a gentle whiff of some odd nuttiness, and a bit of that not-quite-right essence I used to get from those Deli Expresses burgers you buy out of the the vending machine. But once I dug in, it more or less just tasted like a Whopper! The onion and pickles and mayo and ketchup and mustard probably helped a lot too, but still. I'd be interested to try this Impossible stuff in a more, uh, epicurean context. But if Burger King suddenly decided to secretly swap all their real Whoppers for fake ones, I honestly would be okay with that.

And I never ate real beef again. Also don't read anything else on this website ever.

08.17.2019 - by Steve
OlmstedBrooklyn
Dry rubbed scallops with blueberry, watermelon sushi, other stuff

I've got to tell you about these scallops. Shit, man. Seriously. Probably—no, easily—the best thing I've eaten in New York. In fact it's probably the best thing I've eaten anywhere in the last couple years.

So the restaurant is Olmsted, up nearby-ish in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and while it's been around for 2 or 3 years now, it kept showing up on every Best Restaurant list I read. It's won James Beard stuff, Michelin stuff (okay, they don't have a star, but they're on the recommended list!). It's basically just become the restaurant in Brooklyn. And since it was Erin's birthday, and we've barely even touched the surface of the surface of this city's 'good' restaurants, this was a perfect opportunity.

Okay, okay, I'm going to scrap the rest of the intro because I seriously have to tell you about these fucking scallops

You know that magical moment in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens the door of her house after the tornado and suddenly the world is in full color? Or that part halfway through Elliott Smith's "Sweet Adeline" where he's playing a nice acoustic Elliott Smith song and then suddenly every instrument in the world comes in an you're soaring in the sky and everything is beautiful? More specifically, you know that stupid moment in commercials or cooking shows where someone takes a bite of some food and suddenly their eyes snap open and their head rears back and they can't contain themselves and how wonderfully delicious that bite of food was, even though it's always contrived nonsense because nobody ever does that? These scallops made me do that.

I don't remember how the menu describes them exactly, but basically what we're talking about is your standard scallops, but dry rubbed and grilled, served with some combination of a blueberry (smoked blueberry?) reduction, some sweet corn, chanterelle mushrooms, and another cream-based pan sauce of some sort. Oh and they're served as a kabob atop a husk of a leek or something. But what happened is, we ordered a bunch of small plates, it was all very good, and then the scallops show up. They look good, the sauces look a little dull or dark maybe, but whatever. So I take one off the kabob, run it through a little bit of the sauce, get a mushroom and a corn kernel on there, and I, you know, take a bite. The first thing I get is the blueberry. It's very sweet, very blueberry-y, I'm prepared to say "weird" and move on. But then, a fraction of a second later, Dorothy opens that sepia door and everything is technicolor and the world is a beautiful place. And I honest to god nearly dropped my fork, eyes snapped open, mouth agape in a stupid smile, and all I could do was laugh.

It's so good you guys!

You get it. I won't go on. Anyway, the rest of everything we had was very very good as well. You're probably wondering about the watermelon sushi, which was exactly what it sounds like but probably my least fave of all our plates. It's a hit with the public at large though.

Oh and I just read the chef here used to be Jerry Seinfeld's personal chef. Nice work if you can get it.

08.07.2019 - by Steve
MeMe'sBrooklyn
Brunch, meatloaf, chili oil eggs

MeMe's is a cool Brooklyn diner that has a decent brunch. They serve a little bowl of dry cereal before your meal which I thought was going to be annoying but it was actually pretty satisfying. They have nice paintings on their walls and they have cake.

08.07.2019 - by Steve
Island ExpressBrooklyn
Jerk chicken

I live about a mile west of all the Caribbean food I could ever want to eat, and I barely ever eat it. This is totally my own fault of course, but considering how much I love it (have I ever raved to you about Harry Singh's on Nicollet?), it bums me out that I haven't really made the most of it. But I did recently stop at one of the better rated places, a counter service place called Island Express. According to the big graphic designed graphics on the walls (it seems like Island Express came into some investors recently), they serve Guyanese food. I'd try to tell you what differentiates Guyanese from Jamaican or Trinidadian, but guess what I have no idea. But their menu was what you might expect; jerk chicken and oxtail and some curry and different greens and patties as sides. I was feeling straight up jerk, and was fully happy with it. A big pile of dark meat on rice and peas with some mustard pepper hot sauce and some spinach on the side. Only about 98 more jerk restaurants on Flatbush to try before I pick the best.

07.30.2019 - by Steve
Di Fara PizzaBrooklyn
Pizza

See item #3.