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?

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Yankee Clipper DeliQueens
Italian sandwich, rigatoni

This is the last in the surprisingly long collection of entries about my recent trip to New York! Because of the way I built this site and arranged these posts (and admittedly my own laziness, because I could easily swap them around), you need to scroll all the way down (keep scrolling!) to the first NYC entry about 15 posts down if you care to read them in order. Which you shouldn't.

Here's a weird one! So finally, after a day of flight delays and a cancellation, I'm about to go home. When my ride drops me off at La Guardia's Terminal 1, I'm immediately confused about where I am. See, Terminal 1 is apparently one of the oldest airport terminals still functioning in this country. It's basically one relatively small building, a beautifully designed and restored art-deco era hub, filled with marble floors and original 1930s aviation-inspired murals on the walls. But it still feels odd. Airports aren't like this anymore. It was quiet. And empty. And tiny. And there was only 1 place to eat, the depressingly-generic-looking Yankee Clipper Deli.

I had no idea this is what I was getting into, or else I would've grabbed lunch before leaving. But I had no choice. And then something funny happened: I actually walked in to the Yankee Clipper and looked at their food selection. It was legit! I mean, not like it was some amazing chef-focused restaurant or something, but this place was like a real NY neighborhood deli. They had Boars Head meats, a full made-to-order grill, and trays of shockingly-homemade-looking roasted chicken, rigatoni, roast veggies, and other Italian-American fare. I went with an Italian hoagie and a side of rigatoni. They made it fresh right there, quality meat, fresh-sliced, good produce, good roasted peppers, gave me a can of coke, and I checked out without having to wait in any line. And you know what? It was a damn good sandwich! And damn good rigatoni! And as I sat eating, the place filled up with more and more airport employees, who clearly knew about this place as some sort of La Guardia secret.

In the end, it was actually one of the most satisfying meals I had in NYC. Not the best, not by a long shot. But it was so nice and refreshing and easy, especially for an airport terminal, and especially since my expectations were so low. Then I bussed my tray, walked about 50 feet to the security line, which was nonexistent since there are only a small handful of flights that fly out of this weird little terminal, grabbed my flight and went home.

And now, back to your regular Minneapolis food nitpicking!

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Sweet ChickBrooklyn
Chicken and waffles

The great Williamsburg bang-bang, part 2: Sweet Chick! So, I walked past this place a handful of times throughout the night, simultaneously annoyed ("Ugh, of course, a hipster chicken and waffles joint on Bedford Avenue in fucking Williamsburg"), and intrigued ("Ugh, chicken and waffles sound really good"). But of course, since it's a hipster chicken and waffles joint on Beford Avenue in fucking Williamsburg, it was packed to the gills every time I checked back, even at 10:30 at night.

But eventually, I saw a spot at the bar open up, and my inner intrigued voice beat out my inner annoyed voice. After all, this was my real last night in New York, I may as well give in and pay through the nose for some Williamsburg fried hipster. I squeezed in at the bar (surrounded of course by local bartenders and other staff members who apparently just hang out at this place at all hours of the night even on their off nights), and ordered the regular fried chicken with the dried cherry waffles. Okay. Look. It was really good. Like perfectly good. Like, I've had chicken and waffles plenty of times, and it's always sort of good enough, but never quite reaches that magic pinnacle of what you assume chicken and waffles should hit. Well these hit it. Thoroughly satisfying.

I learned later, in a beautiful cosmic coincidence that did tie a nice bow around my trip, that Sweet Chick is owned by the same husband-and-wife duo that owns Pearl's, the first place I ate on this NYC adventure, and also one of the best. Whatever my misgivings about modern day restauranteurship may be, these two certainly know how to make some incredible food.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Crif DogsBrooklyn
Hot dogs

So what happened is: My flight got cancelled and rescheduled for the next evening, so I got an extra night in the city! Lucky me! Lucky me? Well, I guess the place I was staying was free, so I can't complain. So to make the most of it, I decided to do a classic Louie-style bang bang!

Dinner 1: Hot dogs. Boring, yeah. But it sounded good. I hit up this little place in Williamsburg called Crif Dogs. They deep fry them there, which I hear is sort of a New Jersey thing. Which is funny, because the hot dog I had in New Jersey wasn't deep fried. Anyhow, I don't know, they were good! The chili dog was particularly good in that chili dog sort of way. Better than the NJ chili dog even. Otherwise, not a whole lot to report. On to the 2nd part of the bang bang!

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Doughnut PlantManhattan
Blueberry doughnut

I'm still not a fan of the current cool-fancy doughnut craze, and the Doughnut Plant did nothing to change my mind. Oily and heavy and too expensive. Still waiting for that magical 4 dollar doughnut that's actually worth the 4 dollars.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Frankie's SpuntinoBrooklyn
Meatballs, lima bean pasta

For my last night in New York (spoiler: it wasn't actually my last night!), I wanted to do an at least half-fancy, "nice" dinner, rather than the garbage that I'd been eating all week. But I also really wanted some meatballs—some real authentic New York a-spicy-meat-a-ball-za. A quick search of "best meatballs in New York" led me to this place Frankie's Spuntino, which was conveniently also a half-fancy "nice" spot in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Perfect! I even rode a bike to get there!

Frankie's is a nice little 'neighborhood' place. I mean, it's newish and pricey and definitely not a hole in the wall, but it still has that no-bullshit feeling that I like in my restaurants. I ordered a small plate of the meatballs, which are beef and veal and stuffed with pine nuts and raisins, and are seemingly what this place is known for, as well as a lima bean pasta dish, because I didn't want to be the dummy just eating three meatballs by himself at the bar. The meatballs themselves were quite good. Really. I have zero complaints. Although I question whether they were truly 'Best Meatballs In New York' good. The pasta, however, was a wet sloppy mess, that sort of made me sad. I don't know what I was expecting, but it just seemed like a bad combination of flavors and textures, as if they were going for 'simple homestyle Italian,' but didn't really put enough effort into making sure it all came together correctly. It was a bummer.