04.09.2017
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.


(1)
03.26.2014
Future Islands
Singles

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.


(2)
07.25.2010
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.

06.20.2010
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.

06.11.2017 - by Steve
JL BeersNortheast Minneapolis
Cheeseburger

I'd been mostly avoiding this JL Beers place that popped up in Northeast a couple years ago, because it had the desperate stink of a chain trying hard not to look like a chain in order to appease all of us city folk. Which is exactly what it is. But when I found myself in need of a very particular kind of thin, oniony, 'burger stand' style bar burger one night, I discovered that is the exact kind of burger JL Beers makes. Which is refreshing for a chain like that. Furthermore, with a little snooping I learned that JL originated in Fargo, and really only has a few locations in the North and South Dakota, and now a few in the Twin Cities. So as far as chains go, it's almost downright charming. Okay, so I'll go to JL Beers. The place is set up just like some "real" dive bar. Long, open grill and fryers behind the bar, not a ton of tables. The biggest red flag is on those grills, where they have automatically timed presses (I guess you'd call them?) that flatten and speed-cook the burgers on the grill. Which feels a little sad, but maybe fun that you could say your burger is cooked by robot? Or maybe every restaurant has these, but just never out in the open? Anyway, I got a cheeseburger, and it looked perfect, like something from Matt's or the Cedar Grill or any 'real' place that JL Beers is trying to mimic. Except: the burger tasted gross. It reminded me of the burgers I'd get as a kid from a Chinese restaurant when I was too picky to eat Chinese food. This very specific, oily, tinny essence that just tastes wrong. And the fries had a similar wrongness. So. They almost did it, JL Beers. Almost.

04.21.2017 - by Steve
ByteDowntown Minneapolis
Black vinegar pork bowl

Byte (get it!?) is a new counter-service eatery and bar downtown who's tagline promises some sort of nerdy, techy something or other. "Eat Drink Geek," it says. Well I did notice the table numbers had drawings of superheroes on them (we got Green Lantern), but beyond that I'm stumped. More importantly though, is the food, a which reminds me quite a bit of World Street Kitchen in its worldly-yet-ethnically-agnostic mix of bowls and burritos and salads. I got the black vinegar pork bowl, which I think was Korean, or at least Korean-inspired, but hey it was really good! It had some nice pickled veggies in there, and some cashews on there, and bok choy (so maybe it was Chinese?) and the rice was good, and it was actually more than I could finish in a single sitting! Thanks Byte! So hey, I like this place! It's bright and chill and tasty, and I guess there's a bar in back, so maybe there's some arcade games back there or something? Or maybe some tech startup offices? We'll never know.

04.09.2017 - by Steve
PinKuNortheast Minneapolis
Fried shrimp, tuna on crispy rice, gyoza

Everything I ate at PinKu tasted great. The pork filling in the gyoza was a little mushy, and the radish 'noodles' under the crispy shrimp was a little bit plain, but otherwise it was all mostly flawless. And hey, I even like that the design of the space isn't too annoying, and that it's a modestly low-key, order-at-the-counter spot that doesn't seem to be trying too hard. Good! But my problem with PinKu is this: I spent $24 there, ate every scrap on my plate, and was still hungry enough when I left that I damn-near went into Savoy next door to get a meatball sub. It's a gripe as old as time. "Oh I paid a fortune at this fancy rest-o-raunt for just a tiny plate of food and a piece of lettuce!" It's annoying. I get that good food takes time and talent and costs money. But this was a little overboard, especially for a place that claims to offer "Japanese Street Food," which to me means it should be hearty and a little bit crass, but filling and satisfying. Granted, I've never been to Japan, but I don't think anything at this place can be qualified as "street food"—it's more or less a sushi joint. (I'd rant further about the new trend of restaurants claiming to serve "street food," but you can scroll down to my Spitz post to get your fill of that). Basically, look... I like PinKu. I enjoyed their food. I liked being in their space. But I just wish it was either $5–6 cheaper, or they would've given me two more pieces of shrimp and one more tuna crispy rice cube. And maybe some miso soup. Or a coupon for a free meatball sub next door.

04.03.2017 - by Steve
Gardens of SalonicaNortheast Minneapolis
Lambchops

Gardens of Salonica was always one of those places that just existed in my mind. I'd heard people mention it, and it seemed to be somewhat timeless and simply around, but until I lived over here, it never occurred to me that it was a place that was real and that you could actually eat at. So I did! And I'm pretty sure it was good! I only qualify that because it isn't food that necessarily yells at you to let you know it's good. I got a plate of grilled lamb chops on linguine, with some garlic spread and balsamic, as well as a cup of leek and lemon soup. It all tasted good, and (and this will sound cliche, but it's true so I've gotta say it) felt honest. Gardens of Salonica doesn't seem to be trying to impress you. They just make quality Greek food. Even the interior had some nice pieces of earthy sculpture art hanging here and there, but it just felt natural and unfussy, and the signs outside are hand-painted in a way that says "We didn't hand paint these signs because it was cool and artisanal, we just thought it was nicer to hand paint the signs." So, yeah, I'm totally on board with Gardens of Salonica. Also I just realized (this very moment) they gave me lambchops even though I ordered the lamb riblet special. Crap.