04.01.2015
Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

I was on board the Courtney Barnett Is A Genius train before this album, and I'm still on the Courtney Barnett Is A Genius train now. I think she's a fantastic writer and interpreter of said writing, and brings real honest integrity to an indie music world often needs to be reminded what that means. She's great. That said, I feel like most of this album pales in comparison to her (admittedly instant classic) EP from last year. It's all good. It's all very good. Some of it is almost great. And moments of joyous surprise and serendipity appear in her verses enough to keep you listening. But none of the songs on here get to the sublime level of perfection that 3 or 4 tracks did on A Sea of Split Peas. In fact, only 3 or 4 tracks on this one would even be good enough to stand up on that collection. This all sounds bad, but let me state again: that last record was damn near perfection. Absolutely no shame in coming up a little short this time around. I'm still listening to it like crazy.

05.30.2014
Courtney Barnett
A Sea of Split Peas

When I first heard that damn song on the radio, I immediately assumed it was some sort of early 90s slacker grunge single that Mary Lucia might play on a rambunctious Saturday afternoon. Liz Phair, Kim Deal, PJ Harvey maybe. One of those chicks. I thought nothing else of it. And then later that week I heard it again. And again. On the 4th or 5th time it was forced on me, I finally bothered to pay attention to the the lyrics, which start off as eye rolling slacker nonsense, but suddenly she says that line about the meth lab, and how she "should amend that." I chuckled. And then it keeps going. An honest story about having an asthma attack. A lovely line about the paramedic. By then, I've noticed those adorable little Australian accented quirks, and by the time she gets to the killer line, "I feel like Uma Thurman post overdose and kickstart," I think she's won me over. You can't fake that kind of wordplay. That's alliteration and assonance at its best, friends. I love it. And then I hear her next single, with that chorus of "In-my-brain-I-re-a-rrange-the-let-ters-on-the-page-to-spell-your-name." It's not genius or anything, but it works in a way overcomes all of its 90s influence—and the early 70s VU influence that influced that original 90s influence—its lack of fancy chord progressions, its kinda obviousness, and becomes an instant classic earworm. Like all the great songs that make themselves part of our unconscious, these two singles from this Austrailian art school chick suddenly feel like they've been here forever, and will be here forever. Can you imagine a world without "New Slang"? Or "Last Night"? This is crazy. This doesn't happen often. Add the song "David" to that mix (which is even stupider in its simplicity, yet entirely refreshing and of-itself), and you have a double EP (which, let's be real, it's a debut LP) where tracks 3, 4 and 5 are all modern classics. Not classic in a "Hey Jude" kind of sense, but in the fact that they feel instantly "correct," and are already part of the canon. I don't think this has happened since Vampire Weekend's debut. It's astonishing, really, but also notable in how cool she and her band come across on this album. Not like "hip" cool, but "cool" in its original sense. She's not trying to make a classic record. She's not trying to become famous. She's not trying to push some new trend. This girl seriously, honestly just wants to play music with her friends and write words that she likes. It just so happens that she has serious talent, a serious way with words, and good god, a legitimate sense of how to write a song, whether she knows it or not, or whether she even cares.


(1)
10.27.2017 - by Steve
Jambo KitchenU of M
Beef bisbaas rice bowl

There's this place that opened over near Cedar Riverside a few years ago called Afro Deli, which is sort of the first attempt at making a "Chipotle-for" style restaurant for east-African food. People like it. They've opened up another location in St. Paul, too!

Jambo Kitchen is not Afro Deli. There's a sign right in the front window that tells you as much. But you'd be forgiven if you got confused, because Jambo Kitchen is in the same space as the original Afro Deli, which has now moved to Stadium Villalge, serves essentially the same menu, in the same "Chipotle-for" style, and even has a uncomfortably similar rainbow-colored logo. It's weird.

The weirder thing, is that I don't feel like my entree tasted particularly African. Not that I'm an expert, obviously. It was good though! But my rice bowl, with steak and veggies and a "bisbaas" sauce, tasted what I would cynically describe as "vaguely ethnic." You could've told me it was Colombian or Cuban and I would've believed you. But still, it was delicious and fresh! My beef sambusa, meanwhile was more what I had in mind. Spicy and intensely flavored ground beef'n'stuff in a nice fried wrap, like a samosa. It was perfect. Really I could sit and eat three of those and call it a meal.

So yeah, Jambo is good. I'd go back. I should probably go to Afro Deli too.

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.