05.26.2018
Courtney Barnett
Tell Me How You Really Feel

I've been as much of a Courtney Barnett advocate as anybody in the last few years, proclaiming to anyone who will listen how she is One Of The Great Music Authors of our generation, a rare Genuine Voice in a world full of poseurs and trend hoppers. What I'm saying is that's she's the fuckin best. Listen to "Avant Gardener"! Listen to it! Do you hear it??

So anyway, she just released her third album, which very learned people will tell you is um actually he second album, since her first album is just a collection of 3 EPs, even though that's nonsense and this is her third album whether you like it or not. It's a bit of a departure, in that it's all a bit darker, slower, seemingly basking in ennui rather than writing circles around it. It's good, I like it. It just seems like she's going through some stuff, man, you know? Except there's this one part on "Need A Little Time," in the chorus, where she switches from "Me...eeee...eeee.eeee" to "You...ooooo...ooo," and the chord changes and the guitars crunch a little more, and it's glorious. Listen to it! Do you hear it??

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.


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03.16.2019 - by Steve
Lions and Tigers and SquaresManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I'm going to try to keep this short. Because there's so many levels to it that I'm just exhausted from it already, especially having just written a 30 page essay about black and white cookies. Here's what's up: Detroit-style pizza is a thing now. It's a thing. Do they really make pizza like this in Detroit? Because if you ask me, what's known as Detroit-style pizza is what Rocky Rococo has been making my entire life. Square pan, thick crust with butter-crispy edges, personal sized pizza. You can even find versions of it in this city called something like "Sicilian style" or "grandma style." Where did this Detroit thing come from? Are you from Detroit? Can you help me?

That said: Detroit style pizza is delicious. Lions and Tigers and Squares, a new little shop that's decided to kickstart the trend in Chelsea, does a fine job of making it. It's probably an insult to them for me to say I like Rocky Rococo better though. But that's okay; Rocky Rococo is the best. Have you been there lately? There's one left in Brooklyn Center. Check it out.

And I have to admit, despite my annoyance at this whole "Detroit" thing, Lions and Tigers and Squares is an extremely clever name. Think about it.

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Zabar's Manhattan
Black and white cookie

I'm here to talk about the black and white cookie. This post specifically says "Zabar's" on it, which is where I purchased and photographed this particular black and white cookie, but having eaten a handful of different cookies from various locations—from trashy deli to beloved contemporary bakery—I have thoughts on this style of cookie in a more general sense, and subsequently thoughts about New York City's cultivation of a unique and hyper-local cuisine. If you would allow me to elucidate? Thank you.

There are certain foods that have been used for decades as a shorthand for "New York." Hot dogs. Bagels. Pizza slices. Pastrami on rye. These are all still pretty apt choices, but it's also an old list. It's 2019, times change, a whole new crop of people have been living here long enough to become a part of it. There's still a clear family of foods that are not necessarily unique to this city, but are so ubiquitous here while remaining somewhat niche in other places, that they feel truly like part of the makeup of New York's ecosystem. The list as I see it:

1. Halal chicken on rice
2. Pizza slices (going nowhere)
3. Bacon egg and cheese sandwiches
4. Bagels (going nowhere)
5. Boar's Head deli meat sandwiches (Boar's Head feels like a fancy good brand at stores in Minnesota. Here it is literally everywhere. You can't not buy it. Even the shittiest scariest lamest bodegas serve Boar's Head without fail.)
6. Seltzer
7. Jamaican beef patties
8. Hot dogs (going nowhere, but seemingly overtaken by halal chicken on rice carts)
9. Pickles
10. Black and white cookies

The black and white cookie might be the least visible of the items on this list, yet it's still extremely New York. It was even part of a Seinfeld gag! I don't think I ever saw one for sale anywhere in the Twin Cities. Maybe possibly once or twice in little bakeries, but not really. Here they're almost always right there in the pastry rack, next to the chocolate chip cookies and muffins and cakes, and just as often are up on or near the front counter of random crummy delis and bodegas, pre-packaged from whatever food distributers make them. What surprised me most about the black and white cookie, though, is that's it's barely even a cookie! I bit in, expecting sort of a standard sugar cookie, or perhaps something like a snickerdoodle, but really they're practically cake! They're extremely soft, like a very thin cake; or like a very wide muffin top. The icing, as you can see, is half chocolate and half plain (or vanilla?). And that's it.

I've had 3 or 4 at this point, and while the quality of course varies on the quality of the bakery. I've had them pre-packaged from a deli, and I've had one from a artisanal bakery in Prospect Heights that was listed on one food blog as the best black and white cookie in Brooklyn. In general they're always tasty. But they're too big, the icing sometimes gets weirdly chemically and kinda gives me a headache. But they're always satisfying.

This specific cookie that's up there in the photograph (and listed as the title of this post!) is from Zabar's, a "famous" Upper West Side grocery store that is supposedly famous for the black and whites. All I can say is it was good. Maybe the best I've had? It was certainly better than the cheap deli ones, and I actually didn't like the aforementioned Prospect Heights one all that much. So I guess Zabar's is technically the best I've had. But mark my word I'm going to track down the true king of black and white cookies in this town.

(Oh, also Zabar's pastrami sandwich was incredibly mediocre. Not worth a post.)

(Oh, oh, and the new Vampire Weekend music video was filmed in Zabar's! And Jerry Seindfeld was in it! We've come full circle!)

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Brennan & CarrBrooklyn
Roast beef sandwich

Brennan & Carr is somehow maybe the least New York restaurant in New York, and yet has been around longer longer than almost any other restaurant in New York. Located way down in deep Brooklyn—we're talking old Italian families who still probably have mob ties, entire neighborhoods of Russians who probably also have mob ties, and actual grass yards—this place was supposedly built in the mid-30s, and at the time was entirely surrounded by farm fields. Which makes sense when you see it; it's built as a freestanding house-type structure, with a couple additions that have been built over the years. It feels old and almost Midwestern in a way that hardly anything else in this city does. And their specialty is equally old and Midwestern: roast beef sandwiches. They've got other stuff on their menu, notably clam chowder (not so Midwestern), but it's the kind of place where if you order those other items, the waiter (a scummy teenager in a white shirt and bowtie) might honestly get confused for a second. You go to Brennan & Carr for the roast beef and chowder. And the wood paneled walls and old cowboy paintings. The sandwich itself was, I guess, satisfying. It didn't stack up to some of the classic Minneapolis roast beef joints like Wally's and Maverick's, but it was doused in jus and generally tasted pretty good. It could've used some horseradish though.