04.16.2018
R.E.M.
Monster

I've been listening to "What's The Frequency Kenneth" endlessly in the last few days. It's a strange choice, I know, but the song has completely hooked itself into me. The proximate blame goes to Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's new podcast "R U Talking R.E.M. Re: Me?", where they talk about R.E.M. for an hour every week, even though they haven't even gotten to Monster yet, and really I don't find their analysis and discussion of the band all that interesting. It's just a fun goofy listen. But what it has done is made me revisit their records with fresher ears, and ultimately that's what's making me think I've grossly underestimated these guys my whole life. They're really fascinating once you lay it all out, almost by being so un fascinating. There are no major peaks and valleys to their career; there's no drama, no grand failed experiments, no major lineup changes. And yet since 1983, these dudes have released so many undeniable hit songs, entirely in their own voice, making (practically) no concessions to fashion or popularity. Every single album (at least until the 21st century, where you can forgive them for being 20 years into their career) has at least one song on it, usually 2 or 3 and sometimes 4, which would be any other band's creative pinnacle, most of which have since entered whatever we can describe as the modern rock/pop canon. It's remarkable.

Even Monster, which at the time perhaps got some criticism for selling out to some grungy, alt-rock zeitgeist, has mostly aged beautifully, and contains at least 2 all time greats. One of which, to take us back to the lede, is "What's The Frequency Kenneth", which, again, was kinda made fun of at the time for being alt rock nonsense. But listen to it! It's great! It's an undeniable jam. And even though they might've distorted the guitar a little more than previous albums, it is anything but a grunge cash in. It's pure and beautiful and perfect. And lucky for all of us, you can find dozens of copies Monster for $2 or less at every used record store and thrift shop in the country.

04.15.2018
Hop Along
Bark Your Head Off

I wish this rocked more.

04.04.2018
Daphne & Celeste
Daphne & Celeste Save The World

Okay, the title up there says "Daphne & Celeste Save The World," which is technically true, albeit probably meaningless to anyone reading this right now. But in reality, this is really a Max Tundra album, his first in a decade. Whu-whu-whaaat? Let me explain, because it's bizarre!

Backstory #1 is that Daphne & Celeste were a thoroughly disposable teen pop duo in England back in 2000, who had one or two earworm bubblegum pop hits that apparently had no traction in the US, but drove the Brits completely crazy. Like "Barbie Girl" and "Crazy Frog" levels of crazy. There's a famous story about them playing at some festival and basically having shit thrown at them from the crowd to get off the stage. Backstory #2, is that Max Tundra is this insane genius electronic experimentalist with a knack for undeniable pop melodicism and a cheeky sense of humor, who spends years and years completely out of the public eye, seemingly too clever for his own well being, crafting his music like one of those guys who carves photorealistic landscapes on thousands of grains of rice. It's been 10 years since the last Max Tundra album, Parallax Error Beheads You, and I basically assumed he was dead.

But what happened is he was actually writing and recording his new album. Except instead of a Max Tundra album, it's a Daphne & Celeste album??? Listening to this record, there is no confusion about who's music this is. This is Max Tundra through and through, from the batshit cut up production, to the melodic signatures, to the fact that there is at least one love song to a synthesizer. No, not recorded with a synthesizer, but about a synthesizer. Did I mention Max Tundra is the best? Anyway, while his own voice is nowhere to be heard, Daphne & Celeste do just fine taking his place, and give the whole album a surreal feel of a bubblegum pop album completely out of time, frankensteined together almost as a joke, but way too comprehensive and smart to actually be a joke. I don't know how this project came together, how Tundra convinced Daphne & Celeste to jump off a cliff with him, but holy hell is it weird and fascinating and a complete joy.

04.03.2018
Mount Eerie
Now Only

The last Mount Eerie album was a towering masterpiece of grief and honesty and poetry, born out real life death and mourning, completely uncritiqueable and undeniably perfect. Now Only feels like a lesser, lighter follow up to that one, even though it is also all of those things. But it couldn't really be anything else, and that's okay. RIYL: crying.

04.02.2018
4th Curtis
I Won the Pageant

Holy cow, it's a local band that's actually good and actually excites me! 4th Curtis—not to be confused with Cowboy Curtis—plays totally solid 90's alt-rock-inspired indie pop on Girlpool-Trust Fund-Frankie Cosmos spectrum. I saw them performing randomly at halftime of a roller derby event, expected absolutely nothing of them, and after just a couple songs was totally sold. They're good! Good songs! Good music! Cool!

04.02.2018
Augie March
Bootikins

Once again, as is standard practice with me and this band over the last decade, Augie March has released an album completely under the radar. These guys basically don't exist outside Australia at this point, so any announcement of new music was probably contained in the southern hemisphere. But as also is standard practice with Augie March, this album is skillfully constructed and thoroughly enjoyable.

04.02.2018
Screaming Females
All At Once

It's always a funny criticism to levy, but I think I'd like this album a lot more if it was half the length that it is. 15 tracks! Who needs 15 tracks in 2018? Gimme your best 8 rockers, cut out all the oddball dirges and half-electro experiments, and we've got another winner on our hands. Not a Rose Mountain level winner, but good shit nonetheless. But as it stands, it's a good album with some skippable tracks, and some more hummable leanings than their previous albums—a couple downright radio-ready tracks, if rock radio was still a thing. It's good. They're good.

03.19.2018
The Decemberists
I'll Be Your Girl

I was going to say this is the worst Decemberists album, but then I remembered Hazards of Love exists, so I'm not very sure anymore.

02.24.2018
Ought
Room Inside The World

Ought has never fully won me over on a single album. I'm fully in love with 3-4 of their songs, but a lot of their other ones are just a little too Wire/Fall/post-punky for my baby ears. But when they're on, they're on. Italicized. This new one, then, is a bit surprising; it doesn't have that 1 killer single, but at the same time, the whole record comes together better for me than their others. Mostly that's because they've clearly shifted their sound into a more "melodic" direction. Scare quotes mandatory, since their singer has a, um, unique (italicized) way of delivering words into a microphone. Speaking of unique vocalizing, do you like Future Islands?

02.24.2018
Andy Shauf
The Party

Here's one I seriously missed from 2016. In fact I think most people missed it. Most people except for Cornelius and Jeff Tweedy, both of which are on record in interviews mentioning Andy Shauf as one of their favorite new artists. And if Jeff Tweedy and Cornelius recommend somebody, I am absolutely on board, and it took me less than 30 seconds of listening to one track on this album to be totally sold. This is some Jim O'Rourke-level guitar pop arrangement, with melodies that are immediately impactful (and winding and dreamy and all those other good words), sung by a guy who almost sounds like the singer from Clinic. Just weird enough. And I guess this record is a concept album about a party. Anyway, had I known about this in 2016, it certainly would've made my Best Of The Year list. Maybe not #1, but damn high anyway.

02.24.2018
Rhye
Blood

I'm a little bummed that this new Rhye album isn't better than it is.

02.24.2018
Jeff Rosenstock
POST

This dude Jeff Rosenstock is a famous and respected figurehead of the 21st century punk-ska scene. I'll pause until you stop laughing. Anyway he's actually a legit good dude, and writes songs that far exceed what you'd expect from such a dude; his solo stuff, like this new POST record is really more power pop than pop punk. But it's a little of that, too. Anyway, POST is really frikkin good, and he yells "FUCK NO!" in one song and it gives me shivers, man.

Oh, and a couple songs sound like Aqueduct, which is weird.

01.16.2018
Steve's Favorite Music of 2017
A List

1. Girlpool - Powerplant
2. Cornelius - Mellow Waves
3. Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau - Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
4. Ryan Adams - Prisoner
5. One And Future Band - Once and Future Band
6. Sampha - Process
7. Mastodon - Cold Dark Place EP
8. Kendrick Lamar - Damn
9. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
10. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy

10.31.2017
Bell Witch
Mirror Reaper

Slow.

10.17.2017
St. Vincent
Masseduction

I had prepared myself to spew my righteous rockist anger at this, St. Vincent's ironic-but-not-ironic-but-maybe-ironic pop cash grab. Produced by that guy who produces everything. Beats by cool beatmakers. A self consciously sexy and colorful marketing push. Pre-release singles that were about Weezer-level dumb things like Los Angeles phonies and, like, pills. Holy shit was I going to tear this album a new one. Or maybe I'd say "Um actually it's a work of genius!". One of those two.

But really, all I have to say is that it's just good. That's it. It's really not much different stylistically than her last album and a half. The pop thing isn't really a thing, and there's just as much guitar wizardry as I'd hope. But still, "Pills"? Really?

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Sidewalk KitchenU of M
Roast duck, bbq pork, ma-po

The (#problematic?) theory of Asian restaurants is that the more Asian people you see eating in one, the better the food probably is. Far be it from me to argue with science, but I will say this: Sidewalk Kitchen (why not Sidewok Kitchen??? Missed opportunity), located in that one corner of Stadium Village that's always had 2 or 3 random Chinese places that seem to cater to a large percentage of actual Chinese people, was full of Chinese students the night we went. It was a real 'sore thumb' situation for the two of us at table five. The menu seemed promising, although I worry a bit when a restaurant boats so many Szechuan and Hunan and Korean options. The food was just okay. There was some confusion about my order initially; I ordered the rice plate with duck and pork, and the waiter claimed that the kitchen said they couldn't serve that item, but then after some discussion with a manager and someone else in the kitchen, they decided they could, and when the plate came out, the pork was cold. Like, cold, not even room temperature. And crazy boney. As was the duck, although at least that was hot. Meanwhile, the ma-po (Szechuan dish with tofu and ground pork) had a very particular sadness to it, more of a watery orange color than the expected deep red, and full of freezer-aisle diced carrot cubes and peas. It tasted weird. It was all weird. The whole thing was weird. I still have hope for this place, because most of the stuff that everyone else in the restaurant was eating looked better than ours, so I think maybe we just got the wrong things. Maybe next time. Well, nah, maybe not.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Spoon and StableDowntown Minneaoplis
Duck breast laab

My previous trip to the hottest newest bestest restaurant in the North Loop, Spoon and Stable, happened a year and a half ago on my birthday, when I sat by myself at the bar and ate as much food as I could afford. I went in skeptical but left impressed. But I went no further than 10 feet from the front door to the bar. This time was entirely different; a Sunday morning brunch with some out of town visitors, I saw that the restaurant is a good bit smaller than I first thought it was, and actually has some lovely natural light from the ceiling, and all in all isn't quite as annoying as I might have thought it was. I mean, it's still all white-tile-and-natural-wood-edison-bulb-in-industrial-lighting, leather-apron'd-barkeeps and denim-uniformed-server Pinterest-chic, but it's not that bad. What was bad, regretfully, was my food. The brunch menu was fairly diverse as these things go, and I ordered a duck breast laab salad with crispy wild rice and a duck egg. It just didn't work. The duck was tough, the wild rice was soft, and the whole thing was way, way too salty. Whatever flavors were in there were just overwhelmed by soy sauce or fish sauce or whatever they had in there. Meanwhile, nothing else I tasted between everyone else at my table was much better. And to be honest I don't really remember what those dishes were. The only great takeaway from the entire meal was the small plate of hash browns that they brought the table (every brunch spot should do this!), which were satisfyingly crispy, and were infused with a sort of garlicky oniony oil. They were great. Everything else was a big bummer. So while I still think I stand by Spoon and Stable based on my great birthday dinner, I'll go ahead and recommend you skip brunch.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Hai HaiNortheast Minneapolis
Balinese chicken, Vietnamese crepes

If anyone has told you that omg Hai Hai is amazing, and you couldn't help but feel that they were conflating their excitement over another new and novel restaurant with actual quality... strike that from your mind. Because omg Hai Hai is amazing.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Jakeeno'sSouth Minneapolis
Pizza

Jakeeno's might be the most perfect dumb family pizza joint (it's a genre, look it up!) in Minneapolis. There's nothing at all remarkable about it, but it's fully satisfying in every way.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Thai CafeSt. Paul
Sour pork ribs

The Thai Cafe might be the most indistinguishablest of all the indistinguishable Thai and Vietnamese places clustered on University Avenue in St. Paul. That name, Thai Cafe. I mean, it's not wrong! Or is it? It's really just a restaurant, not exactly a care. But what is a cafe? Where does that line get drawn? Anyway, it really doesn't matter that they have a boring name, because like Clark Kent spinning around in a broom closet and becoming Batman (did I do that right?), the Thai Cafe has a superpower called Sour Pork Ribs. These things, man. The City Pages Best-Of write up specifically mentioned the sour pork ribs, the Eater write up mentioned the pork ribs, and sure enough every other table in the restaurant had ordered the sour pork ribs. Garlicky, sour, pleasantly chewy, sour, spicy, sour, very red. So red. I don't want to go all the way in saying that the Thai Cafe is the best Thai Place in town; the other dishes were above average, but these dang ribs are good enough that it's automatically in the conversation.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Porchetteria South Minneapolis
Porchetta

I already did a post on the Porchetteria a couple years ago, but I just had it again and think it deserves an update. Because while —if my memory serves me—my last review was good but a little bit unexcited, this time around it was holy shit good. Some of the best porchetta I've ever had. It changed my whole outlook on this place, and now I just want to wait for all this stupid snow to melt so I can go back again.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
The Sheridan RoomNortheast Minneapolis
Fried chicken, mac and cheese

I have a deep, long, weird history with the Sheridan Room. So deep, long, and weird that I don't even want to go there. Basically: it's the location that used to be The Modern, my favorite place in the world, and I actually did some design work for them, so actually I probably shouldn't be reviewing it at all. But: my fried chicken was nice, if a little overcooked, but the mac and cheese was seriously some of the best mac and cheese I've had in years. I still wish it was the Modern though.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Halftime RecSt. Paul
Cheeseburger

On a search for some good St. Paul burger spots (aside from the obvious Nook or Blue Door), I kept seeing Halftime Rec pop up on lists. More specifically, I saw "The Paddy Shack at Halftime Rec". Whatever that means. Halftime Rec is one of those classic St. Paul bars that I've heard about a bunch, but always assumed was just a dumb sports bar. But I think I might've confused it with Gabe's In The Park, because really Halftime Rec is more of a classic corner dive. It's big, but there's really not much to it. Which is great. Why they call the food "The Paddy Shack At..." I'm still not sure, but whatever. Anyway, we got this supposedly famous burger of theirs, and it was fine but nothing special. Give it a shot anyway though, it's a decent little place.

04.02.2018 - by Steve
The Old GateHebden Bridge
Sunday roast

04.02.2018 - by Steve
This & ThatManchester
Curry

04.02.2018 - by Steve
Nando'sManchester
Piri piri chicken

04.02.2018 - by Steve
Luck Lust Liquor & BurnManchester
Pork burrito

04.02.2018 - by Steve
KingfisherManchester
Fish and chips

04.02.2018 - by Steve
West CornerManchester
Jalapeno burger

04.02.2018 - by Steve
Morley'sCrystal Palace
Fried chicken sandwich

04.02.2018 - by Steve
ChivesLondon
English breakfast

04.02.2018 - by Steve
The AstronomerLondon
Steak pie

04.02.2018 - by Steve
Bistrotheque London
Chicken française