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?

07.19.2018 - by Steve
Sorriso'sQueens
Meatball sandwich, sopressata sandwich

This is the most New York place in New York. I actually heard the guy behind the counter say "gabagool." And they make some damn fine sandwiches.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
JollibeeQueens
Fried chicken, spaghetti, cheeseburger

New York City! Perhaps the greatest culinary destination in the world! It's got everything! Pizza pie! A spicy a meat a ballsa! Bagels! Enough Michelin stars to light up the night sky! Invitation-only chef dinners, $500 a plate steakhouses, experimental ice cream speakeasies, authentic Puerto Rican food served by grandmas with Weber grills on the sidewalk. You can't throw a stick in New York without it hitting the best restaurant you've ever eaten at. Or it'll hit Jollibee.

I've been fascinated by Jollibee for nearly 10 years now. I have a gross fascination in general with regional chains; whenever I go on a road trip, I generally try to find some sort of fast food restaurant that is native to the place I'm in. Jollibee is sort of an extreme version of that. There are hundreds of Jollibee locations in the Philippines and south Asia, sort of a Filipino McDonalds. But when I heard that there was one single location in New York, right in the heart of Queens, it's been near the top of my list of NYC restaurant destinations. Near the top. So, yeah, it's taken me a while to get there. Until now!

And as is often the case with international interpretations of American cuisine, it's just a little off. The main draw here is fried chicken. Or as they call it, "Chickenjoy." Fine. And actually kinda spicy and decent. But the next big item is spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti. Although this is a bit of a regional take on the dish, with a sweeter and more bell-pepper-infused sauce than our traditional marinara. It almost tastes like ketchup with some spices. I know. Lastly, of course, are burgers. Their cheeseburger is actually nearly hidden on the menu, so it must not be a best seller. But interestingly, it was the best thing I had! It obviously wasn't a great burger, but it was very enjoyable! I'd honestly take it over a standard McDonalds burger if you were to make me choose. Oddly, it reminded me of when I was a kid and refused to eat Chinese food, and my parents would order me a cheeseburger at the Chinese restaurant. I don't know if it's the type of oil or what, but there's a very particular flavor to the char on the burger that I can't quite describe.

Anyway, Jollibee is weird. Real weird. I can't say you should go there, but if you are in New York for the 5th or 6th time and feel like treating yourself to something that's maybe the most New York of all.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
Jezabel'sPhiladelphia
Empanadas

Here's a fun and random one! Just a couple blocks from where we were staying in Philadelphia was a tiny little Argentinian cafe called Jezabel's. "Fun?", you ask? I guess a small Argentinian cafe in a historic residential Philadelphia neighborhood could be fun on its own, but in this case, we happened to hit up Jezabel's right while Argentina was playing France in the World Cup! We were just stopping in quick to get some small bites before leaving for the bus station, but found this tiny little place crowded with people in blue and white Argentina jerseys watching the game on a huge flatscreen TV just sitting up on the bar. This place is really like the size of a small coffee shop, so even a dozen revelers made it feel super packed. And fun. So we stayed a bit and ate some empanadas. Which, for real, were some of the best empanadas I've ever eaten! I had two kinds: beef, and ham & cheese. The beef was fairly standard, but wonderfully flavorful, and the dough was flaky and tender and perfect, not stale or greasy like you could find at some other shops. Meanwhile, the ham and cheese—for which I kept my expectations low—was even better. I don't know why I thought it was just going to be cruddy cheddar cheese and off-the-shelf ham, but this thing had layers of flavor! I couldn't tell you what kind of cheese, or what else might've been in it, but damn, it was good. And I don't think I can get anything like it in this town.

Then Argentina gave up a couple goals and everyone was bummed.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
Paesano's Philadelphia
Roast pork sandwich

Regular readers of this site (lol) might remember last year's trip to Philadelphia, where of course I had to get a cheesesteak from Pat's, or Geno's, or wherever else who cares it was very mediocre. Meanwhile, True Food Knowers will tell you that the Real Philadelphia Foodstuff is actually the roast pork sandwich. Which is: roast pork (either sliced, pulled, or chopped), sharp provolone cheese, and Italian marinated broccoli rabe, on a hoagie bun. That broccoli rabe is key, sort of like the pickle on a Chicago dog, or giardiniera on an Italian beef. I've never seen that on any sandwich in the midwest, or anywhere else, really. (Although, spoiler alert, I think you can find it in some of the more legit Italian delis in New York too).

So on my latest trip to the east coast, my first stop in Philly was at Paesano's, one of the higher-recommended joints for a roast pork. It seems that Paesano's used to be a bit of a hole-in-the-wall freestanding mom-n-pop shop, but it's now sadly and sterilely seated on the first floor of a new-construction apartment development. Lame, but forgivable. But it's still a small little shop, with just a grill behind the counter, a chalkboard menu up top, and one guy with an incredible Philly accent running the place. I'd never actually heard one in person before. It was eye opening.

I'll say this: every sandwich on their menu looked amazing. I wanted all of them. They even had porchetta! But I had to go with the standard roast pork, since, you know, that's what I was there for. I ordered it, was told to pay when I was finished, grabbed a can of Coke from the fridge, sat down at a table, waited for the sandwich, received the sandwich, took a bite of the sandwich, and died from happiness.

Fuck the cheesesteak. The roast pork is the righteous truth.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
The LynhallUptown Minneapolis
Biscuits and gravy

Food Halls (aka Food Courts with a superiority complex) are becoming a thing. In London and Manchester, they are very much already a thing. I imagine in New York they are also a thing. And with the opening of the Lynhall, they are now a thing here. Sort of? Because I don't think the Lynhall is actually a food hall. A food hall, as far as I am aware, has multiple vendors selling different types of food all under the same roof with a communal seating area. The Lynhall seems to basically just be a counter-ordering restaurant; there's just one menu, just one register, seemingly just one kitchen. It's basically just a more expensive 'fast casual' restaurant!

But whatever. My biscuits and gravy (oh, I'm sorry, drop biscuits) were tasty. The whole place is a little annoying, and there was a weird interaction at the register where the cashier seemed insistent on recommending a new sushi restaurant to us, which made me think that Lynhall and the sushi place are run by the same people and the employees of each are required to buzz market the other, but that's a whole other thing.