04.08.2017
Mastodon
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.


(1)
06.26.2014
Mastodon
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.


(3)
09.11.2010
Mastodon
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."


(1)
03.27.2009
Mastodon
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.

01.14.2009
Mastodon
Remission

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?

02.24.2018 - by Steve
Berber and Q London
Lamb shawarma

01.16.2018 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2017South Minneapolis
A List

1. Gino’s - Broccolini
2. Young Joni - Parisian pizza
3. Homemade sarmale rolls
4. Xi’an Famous Foods - Hand pulled noodles
5. Swedish meatballs - Homemade
6. Pearl’s - Jerk chicken bake
7. Ghorka Palace - Lamb Newari choyla
8. Pequod’s - Deep dish pizza
9. Milkjam - Black chocolate ice cream
10. Uncle Franky’s - Coney dog
11. Homemade cast iron steak and butter
12. Jersey Mike’s* - Italian sandwich
13. Stray Dog - Bacon caramel roll

* Yes, Jersey Mike’s. Look, it’s a dumb chain. But I had it for the first time this year and I think it’s super legit and is far and away the best sub sandwich chain around. My first sandwich there was a minor revelation to mean I will vouch for it all day long on this dumb blog.

10.27.2017 - by Steve
Jambo KitchenU of M
Beef bisbaas rice bowl

There's this place that opened over near Cedar Riverside a few years ago called Afro Deli, which is sort of the first attempt at making a "Chipotle-for" style restaurant for east-African food. People like it. They've opened up another location in St. Paul, too!

Jambo Kitchen is not Afro Deli. There's a sign right in the front window that tells you as much. But you'd be forgiven if you got confused, because Jambo Kitchen is in the same space as the original Afro Deli, which has now moved to Stadium Villalge, serves essentially the same menu, in the same "Chipotle-for" style, and even has a uncomfortably similar rainbow-colored logo. It's weird.

The weirder thing, is that I don't feel like my entree tasted particularly African. Not that I'm an expert, obviously. It was good though! But my rice bowl, with steak and veggies and a "bisbaas" sauce, tasted what I would cynically describe as "vaguely ethnic." You could've told me it was Colombian or Cuban and I would've believed you. But still, it was delicious and fresh! My beef sambusa, meanwhile was more what I had in mind. Spicy and intensely flavored ground beef'n'stuff in a nice fried wrap, like a samosa. It was perfect. Really I could sit and eat three of those and call it a meal.

So yeah, Jambo is good. I'd go back. I should probably go to Afro Deli too.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Isles BunUptown Minneapolis
Cinnamon bun

It's very easy to forget that Isles Bun exists. And that's actually not that bad, because you really don't need to eat these things any more than once or twice a year. But just remember, when you really need that cinnamon roll, feeling some deep longing for the decadence of a Cinnabon without the requisite shame that accompanies it, swallow your pride and go to Uptown and slather your feelings in frosting from their little tub.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Northern Waters SmokehausDuluth
Smoked salmon banh mi

I wish Duluth was a better food town. Probably most people wish that; I mean, why not? But aside from the New Scenic*, and the Duluth Grill**, there doesn't seem to be any real momentum in transcending the half-assed tourist town cafes and Grandma's-owned food factories that the city currently calls it food scene. But there always seems to be a little bit of hope. Currently it's Northern Waters Smokehaus (sic), which despite its hashtag-basic name and Canal Park location, has lately been the universal recommendation of anyone even half in-the-know when asked what's good in Duluth these days. And even though most of these people will also recommend Burrito Union to you (blech), dag nabbit they're right about this one! Northern Waters is a small little deli in one of those weird Canal Park shopping/office complexes—which I think is more charming than annoying—which basically operates like a more urbane version of your standard north shore smokehouse. Smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked herring. All that. But they go a step farther and do their own pastrami and sausage and porchetta (of course), and offer a whole bunch of different sandwiches. The porchetta was a little bit tame and dry for my liking, but still tasty. The smoked salmon banh mi, meanwhile, but a goddamn taste explosion, and even though you could barely make out the salmon in it, it was still a damn good sandwich. Especially for Duluth. And for what it's worth, I ate some of the salmon on its own, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, we got some polish sausage to go, and cooked it up a couple days later, to phenomenal results. As you can tell, I like this place. It's just what Duluth needs, and I'm glad it exists. And based on the lines that afternoon, I'm imagining they're going to be twice as big next time I visit, and hopefully no less respectable.

* Which isn't even in Duluth.
** Which I've actually never eaten at, but I refuse to believe is really any better than your standard Highland Grill / Chatterbox style "hey look at this funky food!" cliche which would never fly in a bigger city in 2017.