04.03.2017
Cameron Avery
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams

Here's a funny one. I bought the wrong album!

What I thought I was buying was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player of The War On Drugs, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. What I actually bought was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player from Tame Impala, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. Imagine my surprise.

So what happened is that, yeah, both of those albums exist. And I think I listened to songs from both just a few days before. But instead of hearing the spooky and psychedelic choral swirls of the War On Drugs guy (Dave Hartly), I heard Cameron Avery's American-songbook inspired throwback crooning. But I don't mind, because it's good! And perhaps better than being "good," it's interesting.

The thing about this album is that it's a little gross. Whether he's writing these songs to be tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or even experimental, there's a palpable machismo to the whole thing. Songs about lovin' and leavin' and sayin' "sorry babe" when you have to hit the road with your band, telling your girl to get her hair nice and pretty so you can take a drive with the top down—hell, just referring to her as "your girl". This is all stuff that was probably in music in some times and places, and you could probably hear far worse in any random hip hop album of the last couple decades, but there is something jarring about even hearing someone referring to "my girl" on what's ostensibly an indie rock record. But looking past the lyrics—which yeah, are interesting and impactful in their shamelessness, if a little bit blunt at times—the music here is very much inspired by classic American songbook fare, and not in some corny, Pat Boone kind of way—they're beautifully constructed tunes, and recorded with the earnest grit of a National or Walkmen album, not an ironic horn section to be heard. And what keeps this all from becoming just too much is that, shit, this dude can fucking sing. I'm not saying he'd win American Idol or anything, but he'd at least make it to Hollywood. Although beyond a couple tracks, he actually handles most of the vocals more in the Leonard Cohen (late 80s Leonard Cohen) vein. Really, the short version of this review is "Leonard Cohen performing A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night with The National as the backing band". I can see a point six months from now when I'm sick of this album and never want to hear it again, but for now I'm absolutely fascinated by it.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Isles BunUptown Minneapolis
Cinnamon bun

It's very easy to forget that Isles Bun exists. And that's actually not that bad, because you really don't need to eat these things any more than once or twice a year. But just remember, when you really need that cinnamon roll, feeling some deep longing for the decadence of a Cinnabon without the requisite shame that accompanies it, swallow your pride and go to Uptown and slather your feelings in frosting from their little tub.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Northern Waters SmokehausDuluth
Smoked salmon banh mi

I wish Duluth was a better food town. Probably most people wish that; I mean, why not? But aside from the New Scenic*, and the Duluth Grill**, there doesn't seem to be any real momentum in transcending the half-assed tourist town cafes and Grandma's-owned food factories that the city currently calls it food scene. But there always seems to be a little bit of hope. Currently it's Northern Waters Smokehaus (sic), which despite its hashtag-basic name and Canal Park location, has lately been the universal recommendation of anyone even half in-the-know when asked what's good in Duluth these days. And even though most of these people will also recommend Burrito Union to you (blech), dag nabbit they're right about this one! Northern Waters is a small little deli in one of those weird Canal Park shopping/office complexes—which I think is more charming than annoying—which basically operates like a more urbane version of your standard north shore smokehouse. Smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked herring. All that. But they go a step farther and do their own pastrami and sausage and porchetta (of course), and offer a whole bunch of different sandwiches. The porchetta was a little bit tame and dry for my liking, but still tasty. The smoked salmon banh mi, meanwhile, but a goddamn taste explosion, and even though you could barely make out the salmon in it, it was still a damn good sandwich. Especially for Duluth. And for what it's worth, I ate some of the salmon on its own, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, we got some polish sausage to go, and cooked it up a couple days later, to phenomenal results. As you can tell, I like this place. It's just what Duluth needs, and I'm glad it exists. And based on the lines that afternoon, I'm imagining they're going to be twice as big next time I visit, and hopefully no less respectable.

* Which isn't even in Duluth.
** Which I've actually never eaten at, but I refuse to believe is really any better than your standard Highland Grill / Chatterbox style "hey look at this funky food!" cliche which would never fly in a bigger city in 2017.