2021-08-02
Laura Mvula
Pink Noise

Laura Mvula finally came back after like 6 years with a new album, and it's inexplicably an 80s-inspired, wet-drum dance party, which is better than that flippant description would lead you to imagine, but still nothing I really need in my rotation.

2021-07-22
King Crimson
Three of a Perfect Pair

Nobody ever told me that Three of a Perfect Pair rules. Like it's kinda like Discipline, and I've always liked Discipline but it's never been my favorite or anything. This one came later and I always thought it was, like, King Crimson's ReLoad. Well, Beat was ReLoad so this is more like ReReLoad.

But nope. Spanks.

2021-06-24
Japanese Breakfast
Jubilee

The first Japanese Breakfast album was real good. The next one wasn't as good. This one isn't as good, but it's sure better than the last one.

Well, no. Actually this might be better than the first one? Maybe? I just get confused because the first one has "Everybody Wants To Love You" on it, which is such a good song that it warps the gravity of all the other songs around it. So really I don't even know how good that album is. But I also know it's the best thing anyone has ever recorded.

This one only has "Be Sweet," which is only the second best song they ever recorded, even though it would maybe be another band's best song if another band had written it. But alas Japanese Breakfast is the unlucky band who wrote "Everybody Wants To Love You," and I'm sitting here trying to do the math.

2021-06-17
Black Midi
Cavalcade

Black Midi sounds like King Crimson now and I think that's a great decision on their part.

2021-05-20
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy
Superwolves

Every time Will Oldham releases something new, I immediately think "It's his best album in a decade!", and then immediately forget about it. But I think this one might actually be the one.

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.

2021-08-02
Pio PioQueens
Chicken, arroz chaufa

Why is Peruvian fried rice always better than Chinese fried rice? What are they putting in there? What does Peru know that the rest of us don't?

2021-08-02
Fette SauBrooklyn
Ribs

It's been literally a decade that I've wanted to go to Fette Sau. I imagined some secret Williamsburg speakeasy barbecue heaven, taking all the American barbecue dogma and shredding it to bits—wild cuts of meat, experimental smokes, sauces like you've never dreamed about. Some artisanal inversion of your standard smokehouse.

Turns out it's mostly just a barbecue joint.

But! A damn good one! I'm not fully confident of this stance, but I think it might be my favorite of all the barbecue (not much TBH) I've had in the city. The ribs were maybe a hair overdone for my taste, but the flavor was bonkers. And really truly a case where you really don't need the sauce! Really! The rub alone does the heavy lifting.

And less annoying than Hometown. Which, let me tell you I have a whole thing to write about, but I don't think I actually will because who has the time.

2021-08-02
The HighwaterQueens
Kalua pork plate

I'm a guy who went to Hawaii once and ate some Hawaiian food and now won't shut up about it. But not even like Hawaiian Hawaiian food. Mostly L&L plate lunches.

Problem is it's hard to find Hawaiian plate lunch here on the mainland. But happily I did find this place nearby in Astoria, which I originally thought was just some new-American gastropub thing, but is actually more like a tiki bar thing, which wouldn't you know, serves Hawaiian plates! And moco loco! They're trying to put a little gastro-ish spin on it so it doesn't entire scratch that L&L itch, but it's still a good bowl of food.

2021-07-22
DiBella'sAlbany
Italian sub

DiBella's is an ideal sandwich chain. It's probably not the best sandwich chain (Jersey Mikes currently holds that belt as far as I'm concerned), nor is it the most accessible sandwich chain (its half-dozen-ish locations are all in and around Albany, so unless you're grabbing a bite after your late night volleyball game, you're S.O.L.), but at least this one location we stopped at had this very particular nostalgia to it—like a 1970s version of 1930s nostalgia that somehow hung around untouched for all these years and is now just extremely uncool but extremely charming. It reminded me of the kid of place I'd randomly go downtown with my parents as a kid, before visiting a museum or something. Also, just one big line of booth after booth after booth against the wall.

And the sandwiches! Good! They were good! Honestly if this place was in Queens, I'd go there all the damn time.

2021-07-22
Kensington DeliGreat Neck
Brisket sandwich

I think I already wrote about the Kensington Deli a while ago, so I'll skip all the boring stuff (it's a legit old Jewish deli in the Long Island suburb of Great Neck), and head right to the transcript of how my recent visit went down:

ME: "I'll have the brisket sandwich"
OLD LONG ISLAND WAITER: "Yeah, you want the [inaudible sandwich name], it's got onions and horseradish and gravy on it, it's great you'll love it."
ME: "Wow, sure, let's do that."

I have no idea what he said when he named the sandwich, but I can tell you this is the kind of place that doesn't have fun named sandwiches. Their menu is basically Pastrami. Corned Beef. Brisket. Turkey. Rye. Roll. Sourdough. Potato salad. Cole slaw. Knishes. Pick something and getouttahere.. Nowhere on the menu does it say anything about gravy or horseradish. As far as I would've known, they didn't have these items on site. But Sal here (just assuming his name is Sal) seemed pretty confident about it, so who was I to doubt him?

Don't doubt Sal. It was a fantastic sandwich. I just wish I could tell you what the fuck it was called so you could order one next time you're in Great Neck.

2021-07-21
Thai DinerManhattan
Crab fried rice, curry poutine, stuffed cabbage

This is the rare case where a new place opens, gets reviewed marvelously in every single publication, and not only did we get the nerve to actually go, but we got more or less right in, no hassle no wrassle no fuss no muss! I'd say it's also the rare case that this sort of place actually lives up to the hype, but I'm a little mixed on that one.

So the point of this place, as you could maybe tell by the name, is that it's a Thai diner. Take your classic American diner, and Thai it. So you've got a bar with stools, you've got booths on the side, you've got burgers and fries and French toast and eggs and, uh, cabbage rolls. But then you've got bamboo and teakwood engravings and Thepphanom statues and brass elephants, and khao soi and laab and pad see ew. It's a Thai diner!

But with all the hubub around the diner-y fusion of the place, there's only one dish that really stuck with me: the crab fried rice. Yes, the simplest and most purely and simply Thai thing on the menu, and one that I learned was actually the famously beloved dish of the owner's previous (and now defunct) restaurant Uncle Boon's. Like really just an ideal dish of fried rice. Simple but explosively flavorful, and the crab itself was downright luscious. I could've just opened my mouth on a hinge and shoveled that whole plate of rice in there. That fried rice alone is worth the trip to Nolita (or is it the Bowery? Or Chinatown? Kind of on the border of all of it.)

The poutine, meanwhile, very good but I could live without it. The stuffed cabbage, very good but I could live without it. Their famous cake with a googley eye face on it? Decent.

Absolutely need to get there for breakfast though and try their Thai tea battered French toast. Watch this space.

2021-07-01
Tibetan Japanese RestaurantQueens
Sizzling momo, sushi

I mostly just want to post about Tibetan Japanese Restaurant because it's called Tibetan Japanese Restaurant. It says it right there on the awning. And the web site and the menu. Not, like, Lhassa House: A Tibetan Japanese Restaurant. Not Gyatso's Tibetan Japanese Restaurant. Who has the time. Down to brass tacks.

It is worth posting about for one other thing though, which is their sizzling momo's! They're just like regular momo's (good ones even!), but they're served covered in a tomato sauce on a hot cast iron platter, creating a fajita-style ssssssssizzle. Very satisfying. And very tasty!

Their sushi wasn't bad either.

2021-06-24
XilonenBrooklyn
Guacamole, vegan tacos

I'm not going to bury the lede here. The lede is that this is the best guacamole I've ever had. It had pistachios and hot peppers in it, and was topped with this sort of green spicy dressing I guess you might call it? Like a Mexican balsamic pepper vinegar or something? It was incredible. Worth the trip into Cool Brooklyn on its own.

There's more to my thoughts about Xilonen, but it's all second fiddle to that guac. But what we're talking about here is a fully vegan, crisply designed, modern Mexican restaurant on a hoppin' corner in Greenpoint. It's the kind of thing that I should hate. Well, maybe not hate, but at least strenuously roll my eyes at. But something about Xilonen wins me over. Yes it's over-designed, but it's designed beautifully. Yes it's hard to get down with the idea of vegan Mexican food (one of the least vegan-friendly of all the foods), but everything we had was dang good. Well almost everything. The purple potato taco was a little blah. But the green chorizo! I don't know what was even in it (the menu says smoked pecans, roasted oyster mushrooms, salsa verde, so there ya go), but it was a hit.

But that guacamole. Really.

2021-06-24
Spy CQueens
Cumin lamb, pork belly

Bib Gourmand #4! And it's another Szechuan place! And it's called Spy C! Spy-C! Get it yet? Spy...C... Anyway it was pretty good but not Sweet Yummy House good.

2021-06-17
Sally's ApizzaNew Haven
Clam pizza

Ever have the experience of spending years hearing about some particular food item being the best version of that food item in the world, and then one day you find yourself in that particular city you actually try the food item and it actually delivers? The clam pizza at Sally's in New Haven delivered. Like just a perfectly constructed pizza pie, and the clams totally work on it.

Just also do yourself a favor—"do it like the locals do!"—and order it with bacon.

2021-06-17
Sweet Yummy HouseQueens
Shredded dry beef, minced pork with cellophane noodle

Bib Gourmand #3! Something is weird with Michelin's Bib Gourmand voting, because there are so many Szechuan restaurants on the list. Like way too many in relation to how many Szechuan places you actually see around town. Are they just all that good? Or is there some harmony between the food always being fairly fresh and authentic while staying relatively cheap? Or does some Michelin reviewer just really, really like Szechuan?

But forget about that gripe for a moment, because Sweet Yummy House rules and probably deserves to be on the list. And I love that a Michelin restaurant list is willing to include a restaurant called "Sweet Yummy House."

Also want to mention that the noodle dish I had (spicy and tingly but perfectly balanced) was called "Minced pork with cellophane noodles" on the English menu, but when I just translated the Chinese characters online, it translated into "Ants on a tree," and I think that's perfectly cute for a place called Sweet Yummy House.

2021-06-13
Win SonBrooklyn
Big chicken bun (aka chicken sandwich)

There were rumors of this place called Win Son in East Williamsburg having the best fried chicken sandwich in town. The place is, of course, cool and Williamsburgy, but not too cool and Williamsburgy, and the sandwich is $20 and comes with nothing else on the plate. So of course it's good.

But not too good. It comes on a sweet bun with a kinda sweet sauce, and that all overwhelmed the rest of the chicken more than I'd like. The thicken itself was quite good though, more of an almost schnitzel-style, flattened breaded cutlet, seasoned with some 5-spice situation. But it needed less sauce, and definitely needed some sort of acidic, pickled garnish to make it fully work. This is me being picky, yeah, but for $20 and no sides, I'm gonna be picky.

Funny enough, we also got an order of their sesame noodles, which was meant to be something like a supplement to the sandwich, but honestly it was the star of the meal. Simple but delicious. I don't think I would've left disappointed with just the sandwich (like I said, it was good, okay?), but the addition of the noodles definitely swung it all in the right direction.

2021-06-13
Saranrom ThaiQueens
Thai stuff

Another Michelin Bib Gourmand winner right in the neighborhood! Saronrom! I knew when moving into this part of Queens that I would be surrounded by some legit good Colombian, Nepalese, Chinese, and Indian food, but I had no idea that there's a tiny-but-robust strip of absolutely killer Thai restaurants just about a half mile south of here. And honestly Saranrom might be the best of the bunch. Spicy as hell, but just about perfect top to bottom.

2021-05-20
Il BambinoQueens
Meatloaf panini

I don't have much to say about Il Bambino, but I want to post this anyway because I'm def going to add it to my end-of-year-Best-Of list. I don't even usually like paninis, but this Italian meatloaf panini was just perfecto. Meanwhile, what I like even less than paninis is paying $10 for potato salad. And yet this dang potato salad was worth every digit of that price. This weird little place nailed it on every level.

2021-05-20
Ugly Donuts and Corn DogsQueens
Corn dog

The new thing is Korean corn dogs. They're just like regular corn dogs, except they're coated in bread crumbs and cinnamon sugar(?), and they're fried to the utmost pinnacle of perfection. Like, not to generalize about Koreans and their cooking methods, but between this and the average Korean fried chicken, it seems that Korean cooks are virtuosos with a deep fryer.

Anyway, if there isn't one already, there's probably going to be a Korean corn dog joint in your town soon. And there very well might be a line. Don't bother waiting in that line. But if you walk by one day and there is no line, go ahead and get yourself a corn dog.