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.


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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.


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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."


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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?

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.

03.22.2017 - by Steve
Gino'sNortheast Minneapolis
Chicken parm

Gino's is a minor miracle. It's a small and unfussy new restaurant and bar in Northeast that specializes in chicken parm and meatballs and lasagna and basic dumb hearty red sauce, refreshingly free of irony, hype, and affectation—there's no mention of "farm to table" ingredients, there's no menu of house-distilled sambuca, there's no menu item that's "a new take" on anything—it's just some delicious damn Italian food in a relaxed bar environment at a decent price. I'm so happy this place exists.

So what I ate (if you're curious) is I got the chicken parm, with a side of spaghetti and a side of broccolini. The parm itself was damn near perfect, fried and crispy and cheesy and plentiful. The spaghetti was good, but served a little oddly; it was in a little cup over to the side of the chicken, like how you'd get a side of beans at a barbecue place. Weird, but hey, whatever. But for as good as the parm and the red sauce were, the broccolini, to my surprise, was actually the highlight of the meal. It was pan fried in some garlic butter, and then finished with a small handful of pickled red pepper, basically juiced right into the pan. It was the mostly intensely flavorful broccoli I've ever had. Super delicious.

The problem, however, is twofold, and contradictory. 1.) I was only person there. Well, after two others left at least. But the point is, Gino's is new and great, but it's not doing business. On one hand, this is great, because it's usually damn-near impossible to get a table at a new restaurant in this town without going through annoying hoops and fighting with a hundred other cool people trying to go there before all their friends. On the other, of course, is that an empty restaurant usually turns into a closed restaurant very quickly. So, hey, people, go to Gino's! 2.) It's apparently owned by the people behind The Lyndale Tap. Which makes me think it's very much setting itself up to open more locations around the suburbs eventually. Which isn't inherently bad, but admit it, it's a little annoying. So for now, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of Gino's Parm before it turns in to the next Buca di Beppo. Join me!


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