10.21.2020
Deerhoof
Love-Lore

Deerhoof released a new album in which they cover and melodize songs (and poems and drones and excerpts and process experiments) by Ornette Coleman, J.D. Robb, Voivod, Earl Kim, Knight Rider, Raymond Scott, Mauricio Kagel, Eddie Grant, Gary Numan, Stockhausen, The Beach Boys, Gerald Fried, Pauline Oliveros, Kermit the Frog, James Tenney, Silver Apples, The Police, Kraftwerk, John Williams, Morton Feldman, Sun Ra, Parliament, Asha Puthli, Ennio Morricone, Milton Babbitt, The B52s, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vinicius De Moraes & Baden Powell, Dionne Warwick, David Graeber, Derek Bailey, William Hanna & Hoyt Curtin, Anthony Braxton, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eric Siday, Igor Stravinsky, Caetano Veloso, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, John Cage, George Brecht, The Velvet Underground, and Laurie Anderson, and it shockingly—although not really shockingly because this is Deerhoof we're talking about—works. Honestly I'd already put it in the top 5 of their catalog.

02.12.2020
Deerhoof
Balter / Saunier

By my estimation, it was about 8 years ago that I abandoned Deerhoof. Breakup Song had just come out, and it was their 2nd or 3rd album in a row that didn't excite me as much as their previous work, and I just felt like the band had explored everything they were going to explore, and it would be diminishing returns from there. No fault to them, they'd put out at least 10 years worth of incredible music, but I just felt like I'd had my fill. So I just kinda stopped paying attention.

Earlier this month, I heard a guitar chord, and an electric circuit reconnected in my brain. I don't know what song it was, what year it was from, but it was a Deerhoof guitar chord. And a Deerhof guitar chord doesn't sound like any other guitar chord. It got into my brain, and for the next couple days I kept humming Deerhoof tunes like a psychopath. Then I cued up Reveille. Then Milk Man. Then Offend Maggie. All of it. For about three days straight I mainlined Deerhoof. I even went back to the later stuff that made me abandon ship, Deerhoof Vs. Evil and Breakup Song. Mainlined it. Loved every bit of it. Best part of all has been discovering music they made in the 8 years I've been away, albums I heard about in passing, but just assumed would be more of the same. They're all fucking great.

Most interesting of all is this collaboration with Ensemble Dal Niente, Balter / Saunier. It sounds like a novel idea, Deerhoof teaming up with a contemporary composer and 22 piece chamber jazz ensemble, one that could come off as "Deerhoof with strings." But the result on record is captivating—it's a genuinely collaborative effort, which lands somewhere in between contemporary classical, jazz, and yes, Deerhoof. It fully works. It's quiet, patient, sublime, with occasional shots of weirdo maximalism.

I used to like Deerhoof. I've always thought they were great. But on this second round of listening, I've turned a corner; I love Deerhoof, and not only are they great, I'm now deeply convinced they're they're one of the greatest American bands of not just my generation, but of the entire rock era. But beyond that one level still, I'm realizing they're not even a rock band. The music they've played for 30 years now owes just as much to ideas of jazz and improvisation and contemporary composition and the avant-garde as it does to, like, Led Zeppelin or Nirvana. They do it all, and they've been doing it all for a long time now. They're some of the best we've got.

11.27.2013
Deerhoof
Reveille

Dootdoo-doot-dooooo!


(1)
09.08.2012
Deerhoof
Breakup Songs

Interesting new Deerhoof album. Not one of their best, but maybe one of their most consistent. Everything sounds a little broken, overdriven, discombobulated, and programmed back as a more danceable Deerhoof. Like Deerhoof made a remix of the real version of the album, but accidentally left off the good stuff.


(1)
01.25.2011
Deerhoof
Deerhoof Vs Evil

On a superficial level, this is the kind Deerhoof album I've been waiting for. Mellow, layered, unique, but still undeniably Deerhoofian. Yet here I sit, only two songs to go, unmoved. Oh well. I'm not too concerned, considering Deerhoof and I have an every-other-album kind of relationship, and Offend Maggie was possibly their best work. Next time, then.

09.30.2009
Deerhoof
Offend Maggie

I know this album came out last year, but I just had one of those "Holy cow" listening experiences with it yesterday. I mean, Deerhoof is Deerhoof, and you get pretty much exactly what you expect. But it really blew me away this time just how out there they are. Yes, this is rock music, and it's nothing more than drums, bass, guitar, and voice, but these guys are really coming from a different place. They're playing chords that are seemingly being invented on the spot, and melodies that are so devoid of comparisons and references that you'd think they're coming from a group of culturally innocent outsider savants who only discovered music the day before. Beyond that, the engineering and recording on Offend Maggie is some of the crispest and purest I've ever heard. You may as well be standing in the middle of their practice space. And that distorted guitar tone, wow! The whole album is really a thing of amazement, and I'm a little bummed I hadn't really given it the respect it deserves, since from afar it appears to be "just another Deerhoof album." Sure, you could try to create a comparison mixing Shudder To Think and Japanese pop and who knows what else, but you'd be better off to admit that, for better or worse, Deerhoof is simply operating on a different plane as everyone else.

11.14.2020 - by Steve
Original American ChickenQueens
Grilled chicken, rice, veggies

There's still hope for this country, and this chicken is proof.

11.13.2020 - by Steve
Its-ItSan Francisco
Ice cream sandwiches

I can think of few other occasions where the payoff of eating a hallowed regional foodstuff so thoroughly met the heightened expectations I obtained in the months and years prior to eating said foodstuff. It's-It is it.

Erin has been entering a monthly (?) sweepstakes on Instagram for something like four years now, attempting to win a package of It's-It ice cream sandwiches, overnighted from from San Francisco (you drove and did you flew?). Well in a great sign for my chances with the Hamilton lottery (fingers crossed!), she finally received notice that she'd won! And a few days later, a dry-ice packed styrofoam container appeared at our door, packed with a dozen It's-Its of various flavors.

Reader, these ice cream sandwiches are heavenly.

I don't want to waste too much text trying to describe them, because there's not that much to describe. And what description I could give will likely be met with something like, "Okay, so what?". Because all we have here is a puck of ice cream, squeezed between two (this is essential) oatmeal cookies, and dipped (this is essential too) in chocolate. That's it. But it all works gloriously. However they're making their ice cream, however they're making their oatmeal cookies, whatever chemistry of melted chocolate they've perfected, whatever temperature they freeze these things at, there's some combination of magic in here.

That's it.

11.13.2020 - by Steve
Emoji BurgerQueens
Cheeseburger

The nearest burger place to my new apartment is called Emoji Burger. Their burgers are named after emojis. And as you can see, they brand the 😜 guy right there into the top of the bun. It would be embarrassing if it wasn't so delicious.

It doesn't beat Andrew's Luncheonette, which was probably my previous favorite burger in town, but it was startlingly close.

11.13.2020 - by Steve
David's BrisketBrooklyn
Brisket on rye

The last place that was on my list of food to finally eat before I leave Brooklyn for Queens (because once you move to Queens you're never allowed back into Brooklyn. It's the law.) was David's Brisket, a secret dark-horse competitor in the ongoing debate of What's The Best Jewish Deli in New York.

(It's still Katz's, but lemme keep writing this anyway). You don't hear much about David's Brisket. It's a nearly invisible hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Bed Stuy—not exactly Jewish deli territory—and doesn't visually impress much on either the outside or the inside. You'd barely even consider it a 'Jewish deli' when you're in there. I don't think it serves blintzes or latke or matzah ball soup or any of those other standards, just the basics: brisket, pastrami, corned beef, and maybe smoked turkey, along with some basic potato and macaroni salads. I think the pastrami is perhaps the "right" sandwich to order there, but I decided to go with the brisket. Because it's David's Brisket! It's right there in the name!

And it was great! Tender, succulent, flavorful! And whatever rye bread they used gave juts enough bite on its own, that I wasn't too bummed that they forgot to give me a side of mustard. Walked down, sat on some stranger's iconic Bed Stuy stoop, and enjoyed the hell out of every bite.

I'd love to go back for the pastrami, but I don't think Brooklyn will let me.

11.02.2020 - by Steve
Nan Xiang Xiao Long BaoQueens
Xiao long bao, potherb mustard salad

It wasn't part of the plan, but our first indoor dining experience in I don't even want to look up how many months came at a dumpling joint in Flushing.

I wish I could explain the essence of Flushing to you, but you should really see it for yourself. When you're in Chinatown, you look around and it still feels like you're in old Manhattan—just Chinatown Manhattan. But Flushing, you get off the 7 train, walk up the stairs, and you'll think you're in Hong Kong or something. The buildings are newer, the signage is bigger and brighter, everything is a little more fresh, in that sort of post-war, malls-stacked-on-malls kind of way.

An added wrinkle is that you're starting to see what you can only really call gentrification, except it's Asian-American gentrification rather than your standard white yuppie type. New ugly glass condo buildings, dotted with trendy restaurants and clubs and tea shops, mom and pop places seemingly being replaced by overseas chains. It's a little dizzying—you want to gripe about it, but at least it's not all gastro-breweries and Whole Foods.

So in one of these new ugly glass condo buildings, is Nan Xiang, which has been in the neighborhood for years, and just moved locations from its little hole in the wall to this shiny new 2nd floor patio. So I guess it's not all chains. Anyway Nan Xiang has long been known for their soup dumplings (xiao long bao), and after stopping by our new place in Jackson Heights to get the keys, we decided to venture to Flushing for dinner. Their patio was totally swamped, but we decided to brave the inside anyway. (Side note: There's an entire essay that could be written about the way the Chinese and larger Asian community in New York City has dealt with the pandemic. The short version: Much better than the rest of us. So we actually felt more comfortable eating in this place than, say, The Kettle Black down in Bay Ridge. Anyway).

The dumplings were great! Very great! I've somehow never been fully satisfied by a soup dumpling—even thought they're supposed to be the greatest morsels ever created—but these might actually have been the best I've ever eaten. So the hype is warranted. But the other dish that somehow blew me away was this salad that we ordered on the side, made with potherb mustard greens, tofu, and red peppers. I've never had a salad quite like it, and the flavor combination was wonderful! Cool and crisp and light, a perfect side dish for a meal like this.

We also got some noodles, but they were lame, so let's not talk about that. Dumplings, yes! Salad, yes! Flushing, yes!

11.02.2020 - by Steve
Hassan Halal Meat & GroceryBrooklyn
Chicken kebab

Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery currently has 1 star on Google. I'm actually surprised you can even look it up on Google, because to some extent it may as well not even exist—I'm surprised simply by the fact that I was able to find that it's actually called Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery and not simply "that shitty bodega next to the other shitty bodega," or "that place where I think they sell meat in the back." There are innumerable places like this in Brooklyn, that you walk by 100 times without noticing, or when you do notice them, you have to wonder for a few seconds how they can possibly still be in business, or what their business even is, and then you consequently forget about them immediately.

Early last year I started frequenting the laundromat a few doors down from this place. It was bigger than the next closest laundromat, and they have a parking lot, so I could lug more bags there without having to hire neighborhood kids to help me carry it all. While waiting for the wash cycle to finish, I'd often walk around outside, and maybe hit up the other shitty bodega for a Coke or candy bar. It never even occurred to me to go to this one, the view from outside was so despairing.

Then one day, when the whether got nicer, a charcoal grill appeared outside. And the next laundry trip, a guy was out there grilling kebabs. Then the next time, he was grilling chicken legs. Every time I walked past, someone would be out there grilling, sometimes alone, sometimes with a few customers or friends—mostly likely Pakistani—sitting around. It always smelled amazing. But it was never clear who they were grilling for. Were they selling this stuff? Was it just for themselves for dinner? Nothing on the windows of this place advertised any cooked meat. Yeah there was seemingly a butcher that sold bulk cuts in the back, but this was not a place you'd stop in to get a bite at. I saw this grill outside for months, just assuming it was not for me. But shit did I love smelling them every time I walked past.

Then on a recent night, waiting for another wash cycle, the other shitty bodega was shuttered. Permanently? Temporarily? I don't know. But I wanted a Coke, and didn't want to go down the block to the other other bodega. So I popped in to Hassan. The grill wasn't outside that night, so I wasn't thinking much about it. I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of Coke, and went to give the man my dollar.

And there I saw it: sitting in an Ikea tupperware bin on the counter, unrefrigerated, probably breaking a dozen different health laws, unrepentant, a pile of kebabs. It was finally happening. "Are those kebabs for sale?" A dumb question in hindsight, but you have to understand the laissez-faire nature of this place's merchandising methods. He looked at me—I read puzzlement on his face—"Yes, one dollar. Do you want it heated?". I replied no, to another period of puzzlement, and he handed me the cold floppy kebab on wax paper and I took my Coke and left.

Cold, yes, floppy, yes, and one of the best kebabs I've ever eaten.

Nicely seasoned but still a good dark meat chicken flavor, surprisingly spicy, and a kiss of char. I immediately wanted to go back and buy three more. Maybe heated this time. Or at least catch them as they were grilling them rather than buying them out of the tub. That'd be weird though, right? Anyway it was a deeply rewarding kebab. This whole idea of finding a secret little hole in the wall; I mean, that's a dumb cliche and probably classist and racist on our part to think about, right? Like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry befriends Babu? But I can't stress this enough in this case, you guys: No cool white yuppies or Instagram food influencers are going in there to find the secret kebabs they read about on Eater or something. It's just an invisible Halal butcher shop that serves parts of the huge neighborhood of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. But the feeling of knowing that this guy on his grill outside this 1-star nothing grocery store is making the best fucking kebabs you've ever eaten—it tickles.

Postscript: We moved to Queens last week, so I probably won't be back to Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery. But a week before we left, when I was out doing one last load of laundry before packing, I had to stop in to see if I was imagining this kebab experience. So I grabbed a pop, went to the counter, and interrupted the owner's conversation with the 4 guys that were all sitting around shooting the shit. "I'll have a kebab, heated please." There was a little puzzlement again, but of a different stripe. He grabbed the kebab from the tupperware, nuked it in the microwave for a few seconds, and handed it to me in the wax paper. As I paid, he stopped and asked me straight up, "How do you know about—", rough English kind of ending his question short. I told him how I see them grilling outside all the time and it smells great, and I bought one a few weeks earlier. Honest to god, I don't say this to make myself look like some fucking white savior do-gooder bravely supporting his neighbors or whatever—that Seinfeld Babu thing—but when I told him that, his face lit up with a genuine smile. I'm sure those dudes talked shit about me when I left, but whatever. The kebab was even better hot.