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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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.