Grumbling Fur
A band that sounds like they've based every last aspect of their sound solely on Brian Eno's "St. Elmo's Fire" doesn't need to do much more than that to get me hooked. And they don't.

Japanese Breakfast
"Everybody Wants To Love You" is maybe my favorite song this year. Short and sweet and easy. It got me really excited about this band and album, which doesn't totally deliver. The singer at points sounds so much like the singer from Hop Along that it makes me want to listen to both of them less, even though I'm not sure who's copying who. Still, "Everybody Wants To Love You" would've been my Song Of The Summer if it wasn't fucking October already.
Okkervil River
You know that line about how Brian Wilson wrote "teenage symphonies to God"? Well this Okkervil River album is Will Sheff writing 30-something symphonies to the Void. It sounds like giving up, but in a good way. It's the musical culmination of 15 years of leading a band that never quite made it, asking "What was the point?", and trying to answer the question in the language of Astral Weeks, or Benji, and succeeding in every way. If Walter Martin and Moon Tooth hadn't already wowed me this year, this could've very easily been my favorite album of 2016.
First: I love that this album is called Wilco Schmilco. If you know me and you know anything, you know why.

Second: I'm sad that this album is kind of a bore. It's interesting, and kind of like Star Wars it has a very consistent palette, and feels unfussy and natural. But the songs just aren't working for me, and something about Tweedy's delivery is very sleepy; he never raises his voice higher than 'man trying to be quiet while recording bedroom demo as not to wake his neighbors.' It becomes a little grating after a while. It's a choice, sure, but he does it on every song and it doesn't hold up.

Third, and most importantly: Wilco has clearly and obviously entered a new phase of their recording career. Their albums are no longer events. They're no longer Statements. They're just collections of songs, some good, some not good, all basically less than their previous output. In fact, I believe the last truly great song they've recorded was "Wilco (the song)", which was the lead track on Wilco (the album), and simultaneously acted as the end of phase 1 and the beginning of phase 2. They just as easily could've ended their recording career by releasing the song as a single and saying "goodbye," and it would've been the perfect ending. Which in a way it did, because the rest of that album was mostly a snooze—albeit a competent one—as was The Whole Love and Star Wars and now Schmilco. Also interesting that they've now released almost as many albums in this new phase, four, as the five they released in their Important Classic Album phase. Or depending on your feelings about Sky Blue Sky those numbers are flipped (I of course believe Sky Blue Sky to be a masterpiece and disregard any arguments to the contrary, and in fact my defense of Sky Blue Sky is written into the very mission of this blog). In fact, I'd actually take my 2-phase theory farther and say that this second phase is now into 2b, starting with Star Wars, the point where Wilco themselves have realized that they no longer share their younger selves' ambitions, and aren't even trying to record Important Statements, which they were perhaps attempting and failing on Wilco (the album) and The Whole Love. Now they're just hanging in a studio and recording tunes and not worrying too much about it, which is probably why these last two are certainly more enjoyable than the former two. Which is to say: Schmilco isn't bad at all. But it's absolutely not Summerteeth.

Fourth: You know, actually, the fact that it's called Wilco Schmilco is actually the most important thing here. That is amazing. I love this band.

Morgan Delt
Phase Zero
This Morgan Delt guy came out of nowhere a year or two ago with this deeply psychedelic, Olivia Tremor Control sounding headfuck of an album, which despite not even being that great was a breath of fresh air in the twenty-teen music climate. It had one great song on it, "Barbarian Kings," and a whole lot of promise. And now all of that promise signed to Sub Pop, and suffers from it. I don't know when Sub Pop turned into a shorthand warning for "overpolished indie pop", but that's where they've landed, and they have Morgan Delt in their grasp. It's not bad, I've listened to it a bunch already, but nearly everything is on the hazy, sleepy, sunrise continuum, rather than the otherworldly unease of "Barbarian Kings," or anything-can-happen balancing act of his Elephant 6 proclivities. Really what this is is half a great album, and the other half probably doesn't exist anymore under the Sub Pop label.
Case Lang Veirs
Case Lang Veirs
I was excited when I first heard of this project, because I love Neko Case, I like Laura Veirs, and I, uh, have no particular ill feelings about K.D. Lang? But then the more I heard about it, and the singles I started to hear, I got less excited. It didn't sound like a passion project of artistic necessity as much as K.D. Lang wanting a project, asking Case and Veirs, and Case and Veirs saying, "Um, sure, I guess." And when they released the first couple tracks, it just sounded toothless and tired. But then, listening to the whole album, in the right setting, really paying attention to it, it hit me: These guys are fucking pros. It's something I've come to appreciate in my old (ugh) age, this idea that an artist needn't be the most radical or pioneering in their art. There's a value in simply being a pro. Look at Prince. Sure, some of his early work was barrier breaking and unique, and he was certainly a generational iconoclast, but as the years went on, it was his meticulous attention to craft, and practice, and professionalism that kept him in the pantheon. He was a pro. And he surrounded himself exclusively with pros. It's the difference between seeing your local 20-something indie alt country band play, and then going to see Wilco play. Fucking pros. That's what makes this potentially "toothless" album a pleasure to listen to. These three women know exactly what they're doing, and who to do it with. It's not going to change the world, it's a little overproduced, but it's a joy to hear.

The Saxophones
If You're On the Water EP
This 3-song EP by The Saxophones is really nice, and contains lots of woodwinds, which all music needs more of. But mostly I wanted to write about it here so I can make a joke about how they should go on tour with The Microphones and The Drums and The Amps.
Frank Ocean
Channel Orange was a instant classic, and it's hard to find anybody who really cares about this stuff that would disagree. Instant. Like, it took no time to hook you. The songs were immediate, memorable, and they all had a hook and a conceit and a direction, and they were equal parts fun and thoughtful. Blond, here, is as far as I have gathered, its total opposite. It's thoughtful, yes. But it's slow. And quiet. And contemplative. And a bit concrete. It's hard to delineate one song from the next after listening. So much guitar and so few drums! So I can't really tell how I feel about it right now. Frank is still at the heart of it though, and there's no doubt that he's a talented—brilliant, really—writer, and a capable enough performer to translate his writing precisely as he intends. Still, as of today, if I want to introduce somebody to Frank Ocean, I'm giving them Channel Orange, not Blond. This time next year, who knows.
Nels Cline
Further proof that Nels Cline is the best guitar player in the world (a stance which I am not capable of defending, but I'll go ahead and continue to believe it), here is Lovers, a two disc set of American jazz love song standards, dotted with the occasional bit of avant garde noise, covers of 70s New York art weirdos, and one Sonic Youth song for good measure, recorded with a full ensemble and chamber orchestra, and performed and arranged with absolute sincerity and care. It all has a bit of a Gil Evans quality, and Nels' guitar playing comes off a bit like Jim Hall, with plenty of Cline-y freakouts and mega-vibrato in places. This guy. He really does it all. He makes these dense, dissonant avant-jazz records, then turns around and performs impeccable lead guitar with Willie Nelson, then goes and makes a years salary touring with Wilco, where he is able to make noise and play impeccably melodic leads. And now suddenly he's Django f-ing Reinhardt. He can seriously do it all, and unlike most people who claim they can do it all, he actually does.
Aimee Mann
I'm With Stupid
I'm officially slotting this into the #2 spot on the Aimee Mann Discography Rankings* (behind Bachelor No. 2, duh). It's good, and I feel like I always ignore it when choosing which Aimee Mann album to listen to** for the evening.

* This does not count the Magnolia soundtrack, which would be neck and neck with Bachelor, because it's not really actually a real actual album, really.

** By which I mean "listen to half of," because as much as I love Aimee Mann, I can generally only can stand about 6–7 songs before I need a break. This of course doesn't count for the Magnolia soundtrack, which not really actually a real actual album, really.

The Avalanches
I can't necessarily defend Wildflower, other than to say "It's very good to listen to." I hear some whinging and grumbling online about how dated it sounds, how mashup culture has passed us by and has long since mashed itself to death, how "Frankie Sinatra" sounds like a Gorillaz song. I can't argue with any of these points. But I can say that the Avalanches have that thing that makes it work. Even the fucking Biz Markie song about chewing is a pleasure to hear. It's probably not actually magic, but it's magic.
A list of trilogies which all began and ended in the time it took Maxwell to release just this second chapter of his black/summers/night trilogy:

The Hunger Games
The Hobbit
Captain America
The Hangover
The Expendables
Atlas Shrugged
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I wish I could say it was worth the wait, but it's pretty much a bore. Can't wait for part three around my 40th birthday.

Ian William Craig
This album can be fairly summed up as "if Fennesz was a classically trained vocalist (or at least James Blake)," landing somewhere in between avant-garde classical and avant-garde electronic, with washes of tone and distortion floating along with cooing voices and hints of melody. It's pretty nice to listen to, although much of the tonal distortion he uses feels a little easy, like he just amped up the gain on a channel or two, or maybe just put a mic really close to an amp or something, compared to Fennesz, whose own methods for distorting and droning feel like they're shaped and built into personal and proprietary formulas, which no ProTools effect can duplicate. So in that sense, headphone listening on this record diminishes its returns when you listen too close.

But there's a twist! (Spoiler alert!)

After soldiering through the bulk of the album, as nice as it might be, just when you're feeling worn out by the haze and fuzz, this guy turns around and picks up an acoustic guitar, and plays one of the most beautiful songs you've heard all year. It's essentially a coda, a straight, undistorted version of the first track of the record, and the sheer craftsmanship and virtuosity of it knocked me on my butt. And more than that, it made me want to scream at my speakers, "Ian William Craig, why are you hiding this? Why are you covering this shit in distortion and muck?" If this guy just sat down with his guitar and a piano, he could record one of the best singer-songwriter albums of the year, I'm sure of it. But for now, I guess all we get is art.

09.25.2016 - by Steve
Panino Brothers - Eden Prairie
Meatball panini
Ladies and gentlemen, the nadir.
09.14.2016 - by Steve
Shake Shack - Bloomington
It certainly would've been nice to write this one about 10 years ago when Shake Shack was an honest NYC phenomenon, a single little booth in a public park Sea Salt style serving what everybody swore were the greatest burgers ever burgered. But when I first attempted around 2008, the line was basically around the park and I didn't want to waste 2 hours in the city for a burger. Then the next trip I went to a Mets game and saw there was a Shake Shack in the stadium, but that would've been 2 innings in line. Then a couple years ago I saw one in downtown Chicago, but I'd just eaten dinner and had no interest choking down a cheeseburger just for a blog that nobody reads, so I just had a shake instead. Well now there are literally 100 Shake Shack locations around the country, including one at the Mall of America, and it's still not even that special, because it opened months ago, and I only just got around to trying it tonight. So I ordered the classic Shack burger with fries. I sat down, got my food, reveled in its presence. And I took a bite. And it was... pretty good I guess! But not worth missing 2 innings of a Mets game for.
09.02.2016 - by Steve
Umami Bowl - Apple Valley
Umami Bowl Street Noodles
When I went to Umami Bowl earlier this summer, I ordered some normal Chinese dish (cuz that's what I wanted ok?), but was very intrigued by this item on their menu "Umami Bowl street noodles." Which could mean anything. But in this case, it was red curry rice noodles with broccoli and mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Sounds a little off-putting, but also maybe good? So I finally found myself in Apple Valley again, and figured I gave it a shot. The bad news is: It wasn't what I expected, which was a rich and spicy red curry with some sort of cheesey curds browned on top or mixed throughout or I don't know! What I got was essentially: mac and cheese with curry paste mixed in. But here's the thing... It was really good! Have you ever mixed curry paste in with your mac and cheese? Try it! It works! Not the greatest dish in the world, and I wouldn't necessarily order it again. But if I ever make mac and cheese and need that extra something to keep it interesting, I know what I'm going to do.

09.02.2016 - by Steve
Wally's - Bloomington
Roast beef
I've decided Wally's is officially the winner of the Great Twin Cities Roast Beef Sandwich Shop battle. Regards to the challengers Mavericks, Penn Lake Roast Beef, and Broncos, but Wally's roasts the superior beef.

But more importantly, my latest trip (only my second) to Wally's struck a blow to everything I hold dear and true, and I don't know what to think anymore. When you get your roast beef sandwich at Wally's—and Mavericks and Penn Lake and Broncos—you take it over to the toppings bar, where you can top it with onion, horseradish, peppers, lettuce, and barbecue sauce. At this hour, I was feeling like barbecue sauce, so I slopped some on the wrapper and sat down. But when I dipped the sandwich and took a bite, the sensation was familiar. A little bit of tang. A little bit of sour. A little bit of sweet. I've tasted this before. OMG it's the same barbecue sauce as Ted Cooke's! Can this be true? Is Ted Cooke's just buying their sauce from some hack food service distributor? But why is it I've never tasted this particular sauce anywhere else? It's very unique! Almost hoisin-y. And delicious. And I love Ted Cooke's barbecue with every ounce of my soul. But how can I continue to love a lie? What do I do now?

08.17.2016 - by Steve
The Wing Joint - Blaine
Wings and ribs
You know what's a really underrated side item that I really like, every time I get it? Even though I never even consider ordering it by choice? That nobody ever really serves anymore because it's not cool or photogenic or bespoke? That is so dumb it's almost embarrassing to even type? Texas toast. So good. So satisfying. So hard to screw up. Even a place like the Wing Joint, who makes just-good-enough wings and somehow-not-terrible ribs in a strip mall in Blaine, can toss a couple slabs of Texas toast down on the tray with your overly salty dry-rub wings and clearly-just-grilled-after-baking-earlier-in-the-day ribs, and you eat them fast enough that you wish there was a third. Then when you get up to leave, you don't even care that your wings were no better than what you could've found at any sports bar from Blaine to Coon Rapids despite the place being called "The Wing Joint," because, hot damn, that was some good Texas toast.

08.17.2016 - by Steve
World Street Kitchen - Uptown Minneapolis
Beef shawarma tacos
I'd been to World Street Kitchen a number of times before, and always liked it, but beyond the awesome aloo tikki chaat side dish (which is no longer on their menu, whaaa), I was never floored. Until these beef shawarma tacos came along. And now consider me floored.
08.04.2016 - by Steve
Taco Libre - West St. Paul
Not gonna lie, I went to Taco Libre because it looked cool. Coolness isn't necessarily always a draw for me, in fact it's often a repellant, but this is West St. Paul we're talking about, so I took what I could get. Even then, it was really only West St. Paul cool; if it was in Northeast or on Lyndale or something, it would be a little laughable. Mexican wrestling masks, poster-style menu graphics, the promise of "street tacos." Everything you'd guess. But so, the tacos: not terribly cool. They were all okay, but nothing you couldn't get at every other taco shop, and probably another half dozen taco shops on Robert Street alone. I have a suspicion, actually, that it's operated by the Las Teresitas people, as the meat selection (and execution) are very similar, and they have a salsa bar that kinda disappoints in the exact same ways as Teresitas. If I did research for this blog, I'd probably Google it quick to see if that's true, but nah.
07.19.2016 - by Steve
Marino's Deli - Northeast Minneapolis
Lasagna and meatball
Sometimes on this dumb site I'll start a post with, "I've been waiting 3 whole years to go to this place," or "I've been meaning to try this place for most of the last decade." Well check this shit out: 15 years I've waited to go to Marino's Deli. 15 years. Since back in early college when I had a summer job that would take me down Johnson, I'd drive by it and fantasize about what must be inside. Don't ask me how so much time passed before I finally took the leap today, I don't know. Just never was around that neighborhood hungry I guess. But I went. And it's charming and great in every way a neighborhood Italian deli should be. Good red sauce. Good meatballs. Good prices. Low key friendly service. It's exactly the kind of place a neighborhood needs. Problem is, like—look, I love dives. We need dives. We need to support our dives. Marino's doesn't need to spend money on an interior design firm or new reclaimed wood flooring or anything. But they could really stand to just take a weekend and tidy up a bit. It's a mess. Still on the right side of charming, but just barely. You should go there though.
07.05.2016 - by Steve
Bibuta - Food Truck
Pork sushi burrito
A new (to me) food truck at the Minnesota United game caught my eye this weekend. Or rather, the lack of a line compared to the Anchor truck next to it caught my eye. It's called Bibuta, and it specialized in sushi burritos and OMG are we in Manhattan or something?? And while you might have an idea of what a sushi burrito is, just stop for a second, and stop thinking so hard about it. It's simpler than that. It's really, a giant sushi roll. There's no tortilla, just a big sheet of nori, with sushi-grade rice and filling rolled inside of it, all held in by a heroic piece of foil. The idea of eating this much actual sushi didn't quite appeal to me, so I got the pork belly burrito, while Paul got the beef bulgogi, and we went splitsies on them. And I have to say: They were both very good. I preferred the pork, even if the beef tasted a little more like sushi, but that's almost beside the point. Really it's just a tasty pile of sushi-like food to fill your gullet. And despite the absence of a nice hot sauce (which would've been made it a near perfect food truck item), it succeeds tremendously.
07.05.2016 - by Steve
Hi Lo Diner - South Minneapolis
Reuben, pie
Okay, Hi Lo fully won me over. It didn't take much, I was impressed on my very first trip. But I've been back there 3 times now, and I'm continually impressed. All the worries I had about it being this or that (or the other) are basically moot. Like, yeah, it's a little on the yup side, but not by much, but none of that matters, because all the food I've had has been fantastic. This time it was the reuben. It's not a 100% traditional one—it's served on some sort of toasted roll rather than rye bread, and the sauce in which it's downright slathered has a bit more bite than your standard Russian dressing—but it is profoundly satisfying. And then they toss in the classic crinkle-cut diner fries, which unlike a crinkle-cut standard bearer like Cecil's, have a rich golden brown fry to them, something we've grown used to on hand-cut pub fries, but is really a rarity on crinkle cuts. It's great! And then we get to the pie. You guys. They've done it.
07.05.2016 - by Steve
Giordano's - Uptown Minneapolis
Chicago style deep dish pizza
Best thing about Giordano's pizza is how there's so fucking much of it.
06.13.2016 - by Steve
The French Hen Cafe - St. Paul
Banh mi benedict
A banh mi benedict! It's like banh mi! But in benedict form! Are you slapping your forehead as much as I am? It's so obvious. Honestly this is one of the best breakfasts I've had in a long time—pretty much perfect. And this one meal alone (and a couple bites of their shockingly dense yet somehow still moist pancakes) has vaulted the French Hen up towards the top of the Twin Cities breakfast joint hierarchy as far as I'm concerned.
06.08.2016 - by Steve
Hello Pizza - Edina
Sausage pizza, meatball sandwich
A pizza by the slice joint that actually serves good pizza and quality meatball sandwiches? Hello! Stupid. That was so stupid. I'm not even going to finish this review. Look, Hello Pizza is good but not great, but that's all it needs to be, and we need more places like it. Wait, is it owned by the Lola people? I think it is, but I'm not going to look it up right now, because I don't take food blogging very seriously. Also there was a manager/owner who was back in the kitchen the whole time, and he was big-dogging the employees and making me a little uncomfortable. Just let them get high and make some pizzas, man!
06.08.2016 - by Steve
A Baker's Wife - South Minneapolis
Chocolate donut
Baker's Wife started using darker chocolate on their donuts! Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

06.08.2016 - by Steve
Umami Bowl - Apple Valley
Hunan chicken
I go to Apple Valley sometimes. It's the worst. But they have a Half Price Books, and an express bus line to get me there, so that's where I'm at. This place called Umami Bowl popped up a while ago in one of the town's countless strip malls, and it looked kinda interesting maybe? At least more interesting than China Dragon Wok Star Garden #1 or whatever, and their menu was at least promising enough to contain masaman curry and drunken noodles, rather than just, like, "Thai coconut chicken" or something like that. So I finally gave it a shot, and it's—kinda interesting maybe? I was really in the mood for Chinese, so I just got their "Hottie Hunan" chicken, which, yeah, does sound pretty lame. But it was good enough. Better than Leann Chins or Panda Express, better than Noodles, probably better than Super World China Buffet 79. But service-wise, it's more interesting. They're really trying to do a Noodles type thing, with a somewhat limited menu, counter order service, and some modern-y Ikea-y furnishings, and circa-2006 indie rock playing on the speakers. But most interesting of all, they have a noodle dish on their menu that has Thai curry and cheddar and mozzarella cheese. I'm kind of terrified, but very curious. Just wasn't curious enough to try it on my first trip. If there's a second, I'll tell you how that goes down.