Future Islands
As Long as You Are

There's absolutely nothing about this new Future Islands album that makes it any different than their last two or three. When I heard the advance singles, I could only shake my head and sigh and admit that, after the bummer that was The Far Field maybe I was done with Future Islands.

And then it comes out and I listen to it in full, and it might actually be their 2nd or 3rd best album! I can't account for it, I can't point out what makes it stand out. It just works. The songs are "better," the vocals are "feeling it". Whatever any of that means. I've already listened to it more than I ever listened to Far Field, maybe more than Singles and On the Water. Sometimes it just works I guess.

Future Islands
The Far Field

I'm super impressed by Future Islands' ability to stay the course. They easily could've gone the obnoxious route after 2015's "breakthrough", hiring big-name producers (Danger Mouse?) or bringing in bigger sounds (Danger Mouse and an orchestra?) or—mercy—partnering with Young Thug or something. But what they did is make another Future Islands album. And while part of me is curious about what exactly "next level Future Islands" might've sounded like, I'm perfectly happy just taking 12 more songs of Sam Herring—possibly the best voice in all popular music right now—singing over some steely driving indie new wave.

Future Islands

It's crazy to me, that now, in 2014, a band can actually make a true splash and gain a whole new level of popularity by a single performance on network television. And crazier still, is that the band that did just that earlier this month was Future Islands. Don't get me wrong, they're great, they're awesome, I love their records but they are capital-E esoteric. Never would've guessed they'd hit it. But man oh man, I was as taken as everyone else by the force of nature that is Samuel Herring, like a jive dancin Marlon Brando, tearing up the stage on Letterman. I've sworn since day one that the dude has possibly the most powerful voice in indie music today. He could front a band of any genre, metal, soul, country, and be just as great. Anyway, all this means that their new one, Singles, came out today to way more fanfare than anyone ever would've guessed. And it's good. It's got energy. It's got melody. You can actually dance to it, unlike In Evening Air, which you can only, like, sad-guy dance to. I think they can do better though; there's a smallness to it that I wish they'd overcome. Synth patches, programmed new wave drums, New Order driving basslines. It's all there, as always. But I still think they can be so much more. But then I'm reminded they recorded this pre-Letterman. The most that this record makes me want to do is wait to see what they do now that they've tasted power.

Future Islands
In Evening Air

In Evening Air isn't growing on me per se, since I liked it from the beginning. But it has, stealthily as Tony Stark's blood toxicity levels, been thoroughly infiltrating my music selection, to the point that if I'm not listening to a podcast (sorry, music), there's about a 40/60 chance that I'm listening to Future Islands. Quite a feat considering that I can barely communicate what it is I even like about them.

Future Islands
In Evening Air

Everything about Future Islands points directly at me hating them. Or at least ignoring them. I don't like Joy Division, I don't like New Order, I don't like Tom Waits, and I don't like megahyped blog buzz bands from Baltimore. (It's not that I don't like them, but you could say that I'm very, very wary of them. How's that?) So why is it that this band comes out of nowhere (and Baltimore), sounding like Tom Waits singing in a Joy Division/New Order tribute band, writing songs that aren't particularly smart or memorable, and I love it? Eating it up, in fact. I think the key is that despite all the referential sounds they're making, none of it seems silly. It all feels honest and heartfelt, and somehow overcomes its own referentiality. And he sings like Bowie sometimes, too. I like Bowie.

Pio PioQueens
Chicken, arroz chaufa

Why is Peruvian fried rice always better than Chinese fried rice? What are they putting in there? What does Peru know that the rest of us don't?

Fette SauBrooklyn

It's been literally a decade that I've wanted to go to Fette Sau. I imagined some secret Williamsburg speakeasy barbecue heaven, taking all the American barbecue dogma and shredding it to bits—wild cuts of meat, experimental smokes, sauces like you've never dreamed about. Some artisanal inversion of your standard smokehouse.

Turns out it's mostly just a barbecue joint.

But! A damn good one! I'm not fully confident of this stance, but I think it might be my favorite of all the barbecue (not much TBH) I've had in the city. The ribs were maybe a hair overdone for my taste, but the flavor was bonkers. And really truly a case where you really don't need the sauce! Really! The rub alone does the heavy lifting.

And less annoying than Hometown. Which, let me tell you I have a whole thing to write about, but I don't think I actually will because who has the time.

The HighwaterQueens
Kalua pork plate

I'm a guy who went to Hawaii once and ate some Hawaiian food and now won't shut up about it. But not even like Hawaiian Hawaiian food. Mostly L&L plate lunches.

Problem is it's hard to find Hawaiian plate lunch here on the mainland. But happily I did find this place nearby in Astoria, which I originally thought was just some new-American gastropub thing, but is actually more like a tiki bar thing, which wouldn't you know, serves Hawaiian plates! And moco loco! They're trying to put a little gastro-ish spin on it so it doesn't entire scratch that L&L itch, but it's still a good bowl of food.

Italian sub

DiBella's is an ideal sandwich chain. It's probably not the best sandwich chain (Jersey Mikes currently holds that belt as far as I'm concerned), nor is it the most accessible sandwich chain (its half-dozen-ish locations are all in and around Albany, so unless you're grabbing a bite after your late night volleyball game, you're S.O.L.), but at least this one location we stopped at had this very particular nostalgia to it—like a 1970s version of 1930s nostalgia that somehow hung around untouched for all these years and is now just extremely uncool but extremely charming. It reminded me of the kid of place I'd randomly go downtown with my parents as a kid, before visiting a museum or something. Also, just one big line of booth after booth after booth against the wall.

And the sandwiches! Good! They were good! Honestly if this place was in Queens, I'd go there all the damn time.

Kensington DeliGreat Neck
Brisket sandwich

I think I already wrote about the Kensington Deli a while ago, so I'll skip all the boring stuff (it's a legit old Jewish deli in the Long Island suburb of Great Neck), and head right to the transcript of how my recent visit went down:

ME: "I'll have the brisket sandwich"
OLD LONG ISLAND WAITER: "Yeah, you want the [inaudible sandwich name], it's got onions and horseradish and gravy on it, it's great you'll love it."
ME: "Wow, sure, let's do that."

I have no idea what he said when he named the sandwich, but I can tell you this is the kind of place that doesn't have fun named sandwiches. Their menu is basically Pastrami. Corned Beef. Brisket. Turkey. Rye. Roll. Sourdough. Potato salad. Cole slaw. Knishes. Pick something and getouttahere.. Nowhere on the menu does it say anything about gravy or horseradish. As far as I would've known, they didn't have these items on site. But Sal here (just assuming his name is Sal) seemed pretty confident about it, so who was I to doubt him?

Don't doubt Sal. It was a fantastic sandwich. I just wish I could tell you what the fuck it was called so you could order one next time you're in Great Neck.

Thai DinerManhattan
Crab fried rice, curry poutine, stuffed cabbage

This is the rare case where a new place opens, gets reviewed marvelously in every single publication, and not only did we get the nerve to actually go, but we got more or less right in, no hassle no wrassle no fuss no muss! I'd say it's also the rare case that this sort of place actually lives up to the hype, but I'm a little mixed on that one.

So the point of this place, as you could maybe tell by the name, is that it's a Thai diner. Take your classic American diner, and Thai it. So you've got a bar with stools, you've got booths on the side, you've got burgers and fries and French toast and eggs and, uh, cabbage rolls. But then you've got bamboo and teakwood engravings and Thepphanom statues and brass elephants, and khao soi and laab and pad see ew. It's a Thai diner!

But with all the hubub around the diner-y fusion of the place, there's only one dish that really stuck with me: the crab fried rice. Yes, the simplest and most purely and simply Thai thing on the menu, and one that I learned was actually the famously beloved dish of the owner's previous (and now defunct) restaurant Uncle Boon's. Like really just an ideal dish of fried rice. Simple but explosively flavorful, and the crab itself was downright luscious. I could've just opened my mouth on a hinge and shoveled that whole plate of rice in there. That fried rice alone is worth the trip to Nolita (or is it the Bowery? Or Chinatown? Kind of on the border of all of it.)

The poutine, meanwhile, very good but I could live without it. The stuffed cabbage, very good but I could live without it. Their famous cake with a googley eye face on it? Decent.

Absolutely need to get there for breakfast though and try their Thai tea battered French toast. Watch this space.