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.

06.19.2018 - by Steve
MT NoodlesBrooklyn Park
Banh mi

This is the best banh mi I've ever eaten, and it's in Brooklyn Park. The suburbs are going to save us all.

06.19.2018 - by Steve
TavialSt. Paul
Tacos al pastor

Hey, guess what?? I moved to St. Paul! Yessir, down to the Irish Catholic boonies of ol' Pig's Eye, more or less the middle of nowhere, just off West 7th. There's not a whole lot of food around here. Mostly just a shocking number of shockingly similar Irish bars—or at least bars with shamrocks in their logos. And Mucci's. But we'll get to Mucci's later. The one bright spot so far, however, is Tavial, a little taqueria located in what was probably a fast food joint of some sort. I was told that this place was good, but that recommendation left off about 4 o's, because Tavial is gooooood. Truly some of the best tacos I've had in this town, full stop. Even their rice is better than the usual spanish rice you get at these places. The al pastor was the clear winner, but I also had carnitas, which was just as crispy and flavorful as you'd hope carnitas to be. You know what? I'm going to add 4 more o's. Tavial is gooooooooood.

05.26.2018 - by Steve
Roman's CafeColumbia Heights
Chicken fried steak

Columbia Heights contains multitudes. Vegetarian Indian restaurants, hole in the wall taquerias, the best Korean restaurant in the city. Flameburger. And I'd assumed I'd explored it all, having driven and biked down nearly every major street in what isn't very large suburb. But then I discovered 40th Avenue. I don't know how I hadn't seen it before, but there's this little strip of businesses on 40th that feel almost like an abandoned downtown, or at least an attempt at neighborhood-building that stalled out at some point in the 70s. But on this stretch are 3 food establishments of note: Amos & Amos barbecue (you've never heard of it, have you?), Miller's Bar (you've never heard of it, have you?), and a greasy spoon breakfast nook called Roman's Cafe (consider it heard-of). Amos and Amos looks a little questionable, Miller's supposedly has great burgers—we tried going there twice now and both times it was packed—and I can now finally report back on Roman's. And the report is good. This is a legit, kinda gross but in a good way, hole in the wall. Everyone who works there appears to either be part of the same family or the same biker gang. Or at the very least, the same AA program. It lacks any of the charm of somewhere like Ideal Diner, or even Fat Nat's. It's mom 'n pop in the truest sense, the kind of place that often seems like it might be great, but in reality is often just a mess. But Roman's is the real deal. They're doing it. Hearty and well-prepared breakfast food for totally decent prices. My chicken fried steak might have been the best I've ever had. It was freshly battered, rather than some frozen bullshit, hot and crispy, and the steak inside wasn't chewy or mushy. Top notch. The hashbrowns weren't anything spectacular, but they were exactly what you'd want. Meanwhile, Erin ordered the Big Johnson, the very classy breakfast special that is apparently their claim to fame. I don't remember what all was in it, but it did come with a polish sausage. And let me say, have you ever had a polish sausage with pancakes? It's outstanding. Nicely char grilled too. Anyway, I can't imagine Roman's blowing up or selling out any time soon, since it's located in the Columbia Heights Mystery Zone, but hopefully they can at least stay in business long enough to get back there one or two more times.