04.16.2018
R.E.M.
Monster

I've been listening to "What's The Frequency Kenneth" endlessly in the last few days. It's a strange choice, I know, but the song has completely hooked itself into me. The proximate blame goes to Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's new podcast "R U Talking R.E.M. Re: Me?", where they talk about R.E.M. for an hour every week, even though they haven't even gotten to Monster yet, and really I don't find their analysis and discussion of the band all that interesting. It's just a fun goofy listen. But what it has done is made me revisit their records with fresher ears, and ultimately that's what's making me think I've grossly underestimated these guys my whole life. They're really fascinating once you lay it all out, almost by being so un fascinating. There are no major peaks and valleys to their career; there's no drama, no grand failed experiments, no major lineup changes. And yet since 1983, these dudes have released so many undeniable hit songs, entirely in their own voice, making (practically) no concessions to fashion or popularity. Every single album (at least until the 21st century, where you can forgive them for being 20 years into their career) has at least one song on it, usually 2 or 3 and sometimes 4, which would be any other band's creative pinnacle, most of which have since entered whatever we can describe as the modern rock/pop canon. It's remarkable.

Even Monster, which at the time perhaps got some criticism for selling out to some grungy, alt-rock zeitgeist, has mostly aged beautifully, and contains at least 2 all time greats. One of which, to take us back to the lede, is "What's The Frequency Kenneth", which, again, was kinda made fun of at the time for being alt rock nonsense. But listen to it! It's great! It's an undeniable jam. And even though they might've distorted the guitar a little more than previous albums, it is anything but a grunge cash in. It's pure and beautiful and perfect. And lucky for all of us, you can find dozens of copies Monster for $2 or less at every used record store and thrift shop in the country.

03.22.2011
R.E.M.
Automatic For The People

After years (decades?) of hearing "Everybody Hurts" coming out of tape players, MTV, FM radio, dramatic TV shows, gum commercials, grocery store speakers, Chris Farley movies, Applebees restaurants, and my own subconscious, I am just now sitting and listening to it, patiently and consciously, in a good pair of headphones. It's fun to do that sometimes, you know. Actually pay attention to music. And it makes an incredible difference. What I felt for years was an overblown, hyper-emotional ballad, sounds humble and quiet. The famous guitar arpeggios is nearly equaled in the left channel by an organ, which you can barely hear in any radio mix. It's really a pleasant little song. Plus, and this really gets me... this is practically an Otis Redding song! Listen to it. Imagine Otis moaning "When day is long..." Perfect, right? It could stand up right next to "These Arms Of Mine" and "Pain In My Heart." And when they hit that F# and the drums come in on the bridge? Awesome.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Sidewalk KitchenU of M
Roast duck, bbq pork, ma-po

The (#problematic?) theory of Asian restaurants is that the more Asian people you see eating in one, the better the food probably is. Far be it from me to argue with science, but I will say this: Sidewalk Kitchen (why not Sidewok Kitchen??? Missed opportunity), located in that one corner of Stadium Village that's always had 2 or 3 random Chinese places that seem to cater to a large percentage of actual Chinese people, was full of Chinese students the night we went. It was a real 'sore thumb' situation for the two of us at table five. The menu seemed promising, although I worry a bit when a restaurant boats so many Szechuan and Hunan and Korean options. The food was just okay. There was some confusion about my order initially; I ordered the rice plate with duck and pork, and the waiter claimed that the kitchen said they couldn't serve that item, but then after some discussion with a manager and someone else in the kitchen, they decided they could, and when the plate came out, the pork was cold. Like, cold, not even room temperature. And crazy boney. As was the duck, although at least that was hot. Meanwhile, the ma-po (Szechuan dish with tofu and ground pork) had a very particular sadness to it, more of a watery orange color than the expected deep red, and full of freezer-aisle diced carrot cubes and peas. It tasted weird. It was all weird. The whole thing was weird. I still have hope for this place, because most of the stuff that everyone else in the restaurant was eating looked better than ours, so I think maybe we just got the wrong things. Maybe next time. Well, nah, maybe not.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Spoon and StableDowntown Minneaoplis
Duck breast laab

My previous trip to the hottest newest bestest restaurant in the North Loop, Spoon and Stable, happened a year and a half ago on my birthday, when I sat by myself at the bar and ate as much food as I could afford. I went in skeptical but left impressed. But I went no further than 10 feet from the front door to the bar. This time was entirely different; a Sunday morning brunch with some out of town visitors, I saw that the restaurant is a good bit smaller than I first thought it was, and actually has some lovely natural light from the ceiling, and all in all isn't quite as annoying as I might have thought it was. I mean, it's still all white-tile-and-natural-wood-edison-bulb-in-industrial-lighting, leather-apron'd-barkeeps and denim-uniformed-server Pinterest-chic, but it's not that bad. What was bad, regretfully, was my food. The brunch menu was fairly diverse as these things go, and I ordered a duck breast laab salad with crispy wild rice and a duck egg. It just didn't work. The duck was tough, the wild rice was soft, and the whole thing was way, way too salty. Whatever flavors were in there were just overwhelmed by soy sauce or fish sauce or whatever they had in there. Meanwhile, nothing else I tasted between everyone else at my table was much better. And to be honest I don't really remember what those dishes were. The only great takeaway from the entire meal was the small plate of hash browns that they brought the table (every brunch spot should do this!), which were satisfyingly crispy, and were infused with a sort of garlicky oniony oil. They were great. Everything else was a big bummer. So while I still think I stand by Spoon and Stable based on my great birthday dinner, I'll go ahead and recommend you skip brunch.