04.03.2018
Mount Eerie
Now Only

The last Mount Eerie album was a towering masterpiece of grief and honesty and poetry, born out real life death and mourning, completely uncritiqueable and undeniably perfect. Now Only feels like a lesser, lighter follow up to that one, even though it is also all of those things. But it couldn't really be anything else, and that's okay. RIYL: crying.

04.07.2017
Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

A Crow Looked at Me is such a personal record that I hesitate to even call it a 'record.' I hesitate even more to attempt to write a review of it—or at least I would if I wrote reviews professionally for some critical venue or another. It's probably the best Phil Elverum record since The Glow Pt. 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear people say it's his best work ever, but even that praise feels imprudent. The situation is that is the man's wife died, and he wrote these songs to try to bear it. Some of them are journalistic records of post-loss minutiae, some are memories of the days and months previous, and some are urgent pleas to the universe to make sense of it all. It's all deeply moving and deeply personal, but written beautifully and honestly, prose poetry just barely formed into songs—and it's all written specifically to her, rather than to the listener or some omniscient third party. I'm not using hyperbole when I say that it's somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, as if these are private recordings not meant to be heard by anyone else. But Elverum released it because he wants to share, so I'm okay with it (although, in honesty, I haven't even turned the record to Side B yet. It's just too painful to engage with all in one sitting). Musically it's very pretty, free of nearly all of the instrumental obfuscation that he's practiced over the last decade, generally acoustic guitar and some assorted droning keys and basses. But lyrically, I think there's no question that it's the best work of his career, although again, even raising the question or placing these words in the same canon as his previous work feels entirely beside the point. The whole collection is wonderful, really, and while I'm sure Phil might appreciate hearing that, he almost certainly doesn't care. This isn't a record of music, it's a record of a man who is trying to cope by doing the one thing he knows best how to do: making a record.

03.27.2015
Mount Eerie
Sauna

I think I've said this about every Mount Eerie album, and then immediately regretted it, but I'm sure about it this time: This is the best Microphones album since The Glow Pt. 2.

11.13.2012
Mount Eerie
Ocean Roar

As I'm becoming a bit of a Mount Eerie completist, plus the fact that he's on a bit of a hot streak and I wasn't about to miss this one, I picked up Ocean Roar, the third in a bit of a trilogy of ruminations on the natural world (imagine that!). And I kinda don't like it as much as Wind's Poem and Clear Moon. There are a couple cool high points, but a lot of it is turning into a formless, droning, damn-near-black-metal wall of sound. But whatever.

05.30.2012
Mount Eerie
Clear Moon

Clear Moon is Phil Elverum's best album since The Glow, Pt. 2 back in 2001. It's beautiful front to back. Similar-ish to Wind's Poem, but almost a complete inverse of that record, and totally upends Sigur Ros' new one in the category of "lush atmospheric mood records released by pantheon bands who peaked a decade ago." So, it's great. But what really knocks me out about it is the downright handsome packaging. Stately. Sublime. There's nothing too shocking or novel about it, it's just perfect. Lavendar tinted foil stamp of "CLEAR MOON" over a hazy, hazy picture of the moon over a mountain, in a font that's been out of style for the last 30 years, but it totally works. Skinny little lyric book with more mountain photography and no-nonsense typesetting. Clear vinyl record. Black watercolor illustration on the label. The whole production, just like the record itself, is pure class and no bullshit.

01.22.2010
Mount Eerie
Wind's Poem

While it's otherwise disposable, a mere shadow of the former greatness of The Microphones, this album can genuinely freak you out if listened to under the right circumstances. Like being alone in a dark house after reading pages and pages of stories about mysterious disappearances, unexplainable lights, and human combustion.

03.16.2019 - by Steve
Lions and Tigers and SquaresManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I'm going to try to keep this short. Because there's so many levels to it that I'm just exhausted from it already, especially having just written a 30 page essay about black and white cookies. Here's what's up: Detroit-style pizza is a thing now. It's a thing. Do they really make pizza like this in Detroit? Because if you ask me, what's known as Detroit-style pizza is what Rocky Rococo has been making my entire life. Square pan, thick crust with butter-crispy edges, personal sized pizza. You can even find versions of it in this city called something like "Sicilian style" or "grandma style." Where did this Detroit thing come from? Are you from Detroit? Can you help me?

That said: Detroit style pizza is delicious. Lions and Tigers and Squares, a new little shop that's decided to kickstart the trend in Chelsea, does a fine job of making it. It's probably an insult to them for me to say I like Rocky Rococo better though. But that's okay; Rocky Rococo is the best. Have you been there lately? There's one left in Brooklyn Center. Check it out.

And I have to admit, despite my annoyance at this whole "Detroit" thing, Lions and Tigers and Squares is an extremely clever name. Think about it.

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Zabar's Manhattan
Black and white cookie

I'm here to talk about the black and white cookie. This post specifically says "Zabar's" on it, which is where I purchased and photographed this particular black and white cookie, but having eaten a handful of different cookies from various locations—from trashy deli to beloved contemporary bakery—I have thoughts on this style of cookie in a more general sense, and subsequently thoughts about New York City's cultivation of a unique and hyper-local cuisine. If you would allow me to elucidate? Thank you.

There are certain foods that have been used for decades as a shorthand for "New York." Hot dogs. Bagels. Pizza slices. Pastrami on rye. These are all still pretty apt choices, but it's also an old list. It's 2019, times change, a whole new crop of people have been living here long enough to become a part of it. There's still a clear family of foods that are not necessarily unique to this city, but are so ubiquitous here while remaining somewhat niche in other places, that they feel truly like part of the makeup of New York's ecosystem. The list as I see it:

1. Halal chicken on rice
2. Pizza slices (going nowhere)
3. Bacon egg and cheese sandwiches
4. Bagels (going nowhere)
5. Boar's Head deli meat sandwiches (Boar's Head feels like a fancy good brand at stores in Minnesota. Here it is literally everywhere. You can't not buy it. Even the shittiest scariest lamest bodegas serve Boar's Head without fail.)
6. Seltzer
7. Jamaican beef patties
8. Hot dogs (going nowhere, but seemingly overtaken by halal chicken on rice carts)
9. Pickles
10. Black and white cookies

The black and white cookie might be the least visible of the items on this list, yet it's still extremely New York. It was even part of a Seinfeld gag! I don't think I ever saw one for sale anywhere in the Twin Cities. Maybe possibly once or twice in little bakeries, but not really. Here they're almost always right there in the pastry rack, next to the chocolate chip cookies and muffins and cakes, and just as often are up on or near the front counter of random crummy delis and bodegas, pre-packaged from whatever food distributers make them. What surprised me most about the black and white cookie, though, is that's it's barely even a cookie! I bit in, expecting sort of a standard sugar cookie, or perhaps something like a snickerdoodle, but really they're practically cake! They're extremely soft, like a very thin cake; or like a very wide muffin top. The icing, as you can see, is half chocolate and half plain (or vanilla?). And that's it.

I've had 3 or 4 at this point, and while the quality of course varies on the quality of the bakery. I've had them pre-packaged from a deli, and I've had one from a artisanal bakery in Prospect Heights that was listed on one food blog as the best black and white cookie in Brooklyn. In general they're always tasty. But they're too big, the icing sometimes gets weirdly chemically and kinda gives me a headache. But they're always satisfying.

This specific cookie that's up there in the photograph (and listed as the title of this post!) is from Zabar's, a "famous" Upper West Side grocery store that is supposedly famous for the black and whites. All I can say is it was good. Maybe the best I've had? It was certainly better than the cheap deli ones, and I actually didn't like the aforementioned Prospect Heights one all that much. So I guess Zabar's is technically the best I've had. But mark my word I'm going to track down the true king of black and white cookies in this town.

(Oh, also Zabar's pastrami sandwich was incredibly mediocre. Not worth a post.)

(Oh, oh, and the new Vampire Weekend music video was filmed in Zabar's! And Jerry Seindfeld was in it! We've come full circle!)

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Brennan & CarrBrooklyn
Roast beef sandwich

Brennan & Carr is somehow maybe the least New York restaurant in New York, and yet has been around longer longer than almost any other restaurant in New York. Located way down in deep Brooklyn—we're talking old Italian families who still probably have mob ties, entire neighborhoods of Russians who probably also have mob ties, and actual grass yards—this place was supposedly built in the mid-30s, and at the time was entirely surrounded by farm fields. Which makes sense when you see it; it's built as a freestanding house-type structure, with a couple additions that have been built over the years. It feels old and almost Midwestern in a way that hardly anything else in this city does. And their specialty is equally old and Midwestern: roast beef sandwiches. They've got other stuff on their menu, notably clam chowder (not so Midwestern), but it's the kind of place where if you order those other items, the waiter (a scummy teenager in a white shirt and bowtie) might honestly get confused for a second. You go to Brennan & Carr for the roast beef and chowder. And the wood paneled walls and old cowboy paintings. The sandwich itself was, I guess, satisfying. It didn't stack up to some of the classic Minneapolis roast beef joints like Wally's and Maverick's, but it was doused in jus and generally tasted pretty good. It could've used some horseradish though.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Andrew's LuncheonetteBrooklyn
Cheeseburger

This is the best burger in Brooklyn until further notice. I want another one right now.

02.12.2019 - by Steve
Foxfire Mountain HouseThe Catskills
Flank steak

I've already typed a bunch about the Catskills being uncomfortably bougie and urbane given its status as a woodsy mountain getaway (see my Phoenicia Diner post below), so I won't do that here. I also won't do that here because it would make me a hypocrite. See, on our last night in town, we wanted to get a nice meal, and found this seemingly new boutique hotel restaurant called the Foxfire Mountain House, which was well reviewed, albeit by very few people. In fact, when we showed up, there were only 3 other people eating there, and the staff seemed genuinely surprised to see us. But let me just say: this entire meal was a wonderful fucking experience. The place was super charming (if a little interior-decorator-y), the cool guys running the place were extremely pleasant and decent, and the food was truly one of the best meals I've had in a while. Erin's in particular was mind blowing; a slow roasted pork rubbed in some sort of garam marsala maybe (it was slightly Moroccan, see also my Phoenicia Diner post below!), with a corn meal mash and some apples. It was out of this world.

So, yeah. I can't hate on the Catskills. They treated us right.