Hushed and Grim

There's a new Mastodon album, and while it's not as good as their last EP (which was great, best thing they've done in 10 years), it's got a lot of cool stuff on it. Problem is there's too damn much of it.

Chalk it up to the digital music era, but I had no idea until I was done listening to it that Hushed and Grim is a double album. It's long. Too long. And it covers a lot of the same territory and there's really no reason to double it up. Not only that, but the actual sequencing of the tracks feels at times completely random, giving the thing no flow whatsoever.

So as a handy guide for my loyal readers, I've distilled this mammoth (um pun intended!) collection down into one single-disc, single hour tracklist for your iTunes playlists and CDR burns to keep in your car.

1. The Beast*
2. Pushing the Tides
3. Peace and Tranquility
4. Had It All
5. Sickle and Peace
6. Dagger**
7. Teardrinker
8. The Crux
9. Eyes of Serpents
10. Pain with an Anchor
11. Gigantium

* The Beast is far and away the best on the album, and is also not coincidentally the most interesting song on the album. Like much of that EP that I love, it's essentially a Brent Hinds country-fried solo song translated into a Mastadonian context. It's truly great and even though it's not the usual album opener, I think it would knock people's socks off to lead with it. I just wish there were one or two more similar tracks on this album.

** Dagger is nearly as odd and interesting as The Beast, just not quite as good. But it has this part in the middle where the guitars essentially hold one chord, and it turns into a hypnotic, Middle-Eastern flavored percussion drone. That's the kind of thing that usually makes me roll my eyes, the whole Middle Eastern motif gets easily overused with some metal bands, but in this particular song Mastodon nails it. I have an alternate dream version of this album where they get to this part and then just keep repeating it, ad nauseam, for 10 minutes or something. Close the album with it. It would be incredible.

Emperor of Sand

Over the last 15 years, every Mastodon album has been something. Remission was the brutal and concise debut. Leviathan was the transformation from concision to confidence. Blood Mountain was the big weird bold step into 'anything goes and we can do it all.' Crack The Skye was the mellowed out prog concept album. The Hunter was an all-out refinement down to songwriting basics. Once More Round the Sun was seemingly an appeal to mainstream popular metal. Things were going so well until those last two. So I was a little nervous for the state of Mastodon leading up to Emperor of Sand... and I'm still a little nervous. I'm really not sure what this album is, how it fits in. If anything, Emperor of Sand is every Mastodon album at once—there's some Remission/Leviathan rage, there's some Blood Mountain weirdness, there's a lot of Skye vocal trading and layering, and there's unfortunately still plenty of Hunter/Once More 3-minute tunes potentially ready for hard rock radio. I don't know what to do with it. Luckily, Mastodon happens to be really, really good. So even if I'm confused by its mission, I still enjoy the hell out of this album.

Once More Round the Sun

Mastodon has finally done it. It took 12 years of awesome-at-worst / untouchable-classic-at-best records, a flawless track record of flawless tracks, and uninterrupted progressive evolution in their sound, but they've finally released a dud. It pains me. I don't even really want to get in to it, because at face value, it's not that bad. If it was some random new pop metal band that your little cousin liked, you'd say, "Wow, these guys are way better than most of those other shitty bands you like." But this is Mastodon. I expect a perfect 10 every time they release something. Pitchfork actually compared this album to "Foo Fighters style hard rock," which is kinda cruel, and not totally valid, but there's some truth there. It's predictable. Lame arena choruses. Guitar tones that are just a little too perfect. Boring old bass/snare/bass/snare drum beats. Funny thing is that there are identifiable sounds all over the record that point to every one of their earlier releases. "Oh, that sounds like Blood Mountain. That part sounds like Crack the Skye. Holy shit, was that a Remission riff?" And it all is mixed with a good handful of The Hunter's streamlined song structures and catchy hooks. But The Hunter seemed (not unlike the Decemberists' The King is Dead that same year), like the end of a line of evolution. Like a predictable yet refreshing destination. Once More Round The Sun—even the album title sounds dubious—feels rudderless. Like they've gotten too good at what they do, have nothing left to prove, and are finally, 12 years later, just going through the motions. I'm not writing them off yet; a 10 year run of perfection is more than even many legendary bands could pull off, and even this "dud" of theirs has moments—in every song—of brief genius. But I have to wonder where they go from here.

Crack The Skye

Not sure how it happened, but my opinion about Crack The Skye has somehow shifted from "Sort of a bummer," to "Sort of kicks ass."

Crack The Skye

Now here's an album that is not only a heavily conceptual thinkpiece and a stylistic left turn for the band, but also a successful one. You can tell I'm serious because of all the italics. Are you taking notes, Decemberists? I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone unfamiliar with Mastodon to make this their starting point with the band, as it lacks a certain Je Nous Se Qua (translation: that thing that makes you want to tip over a police car and sacrifice a goat... but my French might be a little rusty). The whole thing has more in common with the Mars Volta than it does with early Mastodon, but unlike the Mars Volta, you actually want to go back and listen again once it gets to the end.


I'm listening to Remission right now, which I don't do often because Libby is allergic to music that totally rocks. The last two Mastodon albums have both been so good (particularly the last one) that I sometimes forget how ass-kicking and unique their first one is. They've gotten a lot more "musical" and "traditional" on the last two--in a good way, mind you--but Remission is something I can only describe in language that should only be used by guys with Slayer tattoos. Like, say, "brutal," "sick," "devastating," and, I don't know, "ferocious." With help from the thesaurus, I could also describe it as "lupine," "sanguinary," and yes, even "truculent." Hell, the first track is called "Crusher Destroyer" for cripes sake! How much more truculent can you get?

Leo's LatticiniQueens
Italian hoagie

If I posted about Leo's Latticini before, I was wrong. Last time around, whatever sandwich I had struck me as very average. This time I was totally wowed. Truly one of the best sandwiches around.

Two Wheels Manhattan
Pho, chicken wings

Totally decent pho. Some of the best wings I've had in New York.

Joe JuniorManhattan

Joe Junior, aside from having one of the charmingest signs in all of Manhattan, is a constant presence on "Best burger in New York" lists. The place itself is very much just a diner—a somewhat charming one yes, but not quite up to that sign outside. And on my visit, it was swarming with unmasked NYU students out for brunch who were annoyed at not getting served quickly enough. I know that's not the restaurant's fault, but yikes. Although Joe Junior's, shall we say, hands off approach to service definitely didn't help the situation. These guys have clearly been living the diner life for way too long and were did not g a f about it keeping the customer happy. I dunno, good for them really.

The burger: good! Not amazing, certainly not the best in New York. But it was very edible. Which I mean as a compliment. It reminded me of the Jackson Hole Diner burger (another VIP on your average Best Burger list), where it was almost meatloaf in its consistency—soft and even light in a way, almost like it was baked rather than grilled. I'd actually put Joe Junior's ahead of Jackson Hole's, simply because it was a much more reasonable size to actually eat, compared to Jackson's basketball-sized offering.

The other odd thing: Never before has iceberg lettuce worked so perfectly on a burger. Usually the lettuce gets immediately sloppy and wilted, and doesn't make a bit of difference to any burger. But the big ol pile of iceberg on this thing actually kinda bumped it from "good" to "pretty darn good". With that extra fragile texture to the burger, having a nice crunchy cool counterpart on top made the whole thing work.

Hinomaru RamenQueens

If this website wasn't hopelessly broken, I'd use its search function to see if I've written about Hinomaru before. I think I have. But good luck.

I just wanted to check in one more time on this place, because we stopped in last week and I had their tonkotsu ramen with spare ribs. Spare ribs! I don't think I've ever had ribs within Japanese milieu. But dang, it was good. Sweet and balanced and tender as shit.

Hinomaru is pretty great, it's got a Michelin Bib Gourmand and everything. Seems to be probably the best ramen in Astoria. Maybe in Queens as a whole? Mu was pretty great, but RIP RIP as of the pandemic. Either way, if there's a better spot, I'd certainly like to know.


I did something last night that I almost never do. In fact I usually do my best to avoid it. What I did is I saw a swarm of Cool Brooklyn Children hovering around what appeared to be a cool new restaurant in a cool part of town, and instead of turning heel and going literally anywhere else, last night I decided to stick my nose into the scrum and—really—stand in line with everyone else.

The place is called Ramirez! (exclamation point included), and is a slick little minimalist box with a cool Bushwicky neon sign (even though it's in Greenpoint), which serves tacos and Coke and Topo Chico (yes New York City is in the midst of a Topo Chico revolution), and nothing else. Part of the reason for the mass of bodies was that, oddly, Ramirez! doesn't do take out. Every order comes on a cut colorful little plastic plate. You're free to take the plate wherever you want—inside, outside, across the street, down to the river, into your car if it's cold I suppose—as long as you bring it back. Thus the crush of people 10 years younger than me hanging out eating tacos on the sidewalk.

It's too exhausting to talk about how annoyed this all made me—because honestly it didn't. It's fine. Despite the popularity of the place, there was nothing outwardly obnoxious happening, and really I was there taking up just as much space as everyone else. And I'm maybe just over being over cool places. Fucking whatever man, let's just enjoy it all. Because ultimately: these were good fucking tacos. Absolutely nothing to complain about. And by "absolutely," I mean "I guess they were a little on the wet side and the tortillas got a bit soggy." But that's it. I had 3, al pastor, suadero, and longaniza, which is a sort of chorizo, the differences between which I won't explain to you because I can't. That one was my fave of the bunch, but they were really all superb. Too small (get 4), but superb.

So. Great tacos. Honestly some of the best I've had in this city. Don't even think about going there on the weekend.

Broadway Chinese SeafoodQueens
Char siu on rice

For all the Chinese places to be found in this part of Queens (i.e. in Flushing and Elmhurst), there's surprisingly few—for lack of knowing what this sort of establishment is actually called—places with ducks hanging in the window.

If you go down to Manhattan's Chinatown, or farther down into Sunset Park in Brooklyn, you'll see a decent amount of ducks in windows. What this means is they make their own barbecue duck and char siu, i.e. barbecue pork. You can just pop on in and get duck or pork on rice. They take it right off the hook, chop it up with a giant knife on a giant wood block, toss it on some rice with some cabbage, pour some drippings over the top of everything. It's almost always dirt cheap and it's even more always delicious. Especially the char siu.

Problem is in Elmhurst and Flushing, you can hardly find any of it. But I finally found one in Elmhurst, this big weird place called Broadway Chinese Seafood. It was great, of course, but it was very strong, almost too intense. The thing about char siu is that it's made to essentially be an ingredient. Of course you can plop it on rice and eat it, but a lot of people will just buy it in bulk and use it in leftover fried rice, or in soups, or as a small side to go with a larger dish. So in that sense it makes sense to lean a little stronger into the seasonings. And that's certainly what was going on here.

The other thing that stood out with this char siu was that it was topped with this sauce, which was more or less a garlic salsa. I've never had anything like it before! Super tasty, but considering the already-intense pitch of the pork, it was a lil much.

But I'm being too critical! In reality I ate the shit out of this whole tray of pork and rice and felt like junk for the rest of the night. And I'll absolutely do it again.

3 Aunties Thai MarketQueens
Pork nuggets

This place is tiny but disproportionally wonderful. A little Thai grocery store that really is run by three aunties, where you can barely pass anyone in the aisle, but barely know what anything on the shelves are anyway. They've got a little kitchen in the back that makes grab-and-go bites, and I want to try one of everything. So far I've just had these little grilled pork nuggs, which were total yummz.

I may as well make this a double post, because I need to mention that I made a special trip to 3 Aunties to buy this particular brand of hot sauce called SD Sauce. It's almost like the homemade stuff you might get at a good Thai place, little chopped up bits of chilis and garlic and onion soaking in vinegar and sugar and fish sauce and lemon juice. It's powerfully delicious, and it made the pork nuggs even better. It will probably make literally anything even better.