07.16.2017
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

I'm filing this under "Sufjan Stevens," because it feels like his album, but in reality, Planetarium is a collaboration between Sufjan, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner. That sounds like a perfect combination of collaborators, and an album where each song is about some different celestial object or idea sounds like a perfectly batshit dumb idea for Sufjan to absolutely pull off. And when you hit play, it works. It sounds like a beautiful surprise Sufjan album that basically came out of nowhere, and it's terribly exciting. But then it just keeps going, and nothing much happens. It doesn't build to anything great, no single song stands out from the others. It's just, sort of present. Like a lesserAge of Adz. Which sounds harsh, but I don't know if there's anything on here to even be harsh about. It just doesn't land.

04.01.2015
Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell

Everyone's flipping out about Carrie & Lowell, calling it maybe Sufjan's best album, praising its deep honesty, all that stuff. Look, I like it. It's super pretty to listen to, it has some lovely and dark lyrical moments, great restrained arrangements. It's a great piece of work. But it's certainly no Illinois or Michigan. I'm not even sure it's better than Seven Swans. But it's plenty good to make me forget about The Age of Adz.

10.23.2010
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

That 25 minute song at the end of The Age Of Adz, the one which I skipped the first time around because 'come on, it's a 25 minute track at the end of the album!", turns out to be the best thing on the album. Who'da thought? Between that and the 11-minute title track and the 17-minute "Djohariah" from his All Delighted People EP from a few months ago, he could've had an incredible 3-track record, which would still clock in at nearly twice the length of Weezer's green album. And I would've been a happy camper. But as it stands, he's put out 3 tracks of genius and 16 tracks of filler this year, which, mathematically, is not in his favor.

10.16.2010
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

I've given this a couple admittedly unfocused listens so far, and am left not feeling strongly in one way or another. It's definitely a grower. It's definitely a headphone album. And it's definitely the best use of trombone from an indie rocker this year (although Joanna's "Good Intentions Paving Company" seemed like the runaway trombone song of the year). Beyond that, we're left with a bunch of squelching, squealing electronic experiments, which may or may not have good songs hidden under them. I haven't figured that part out yet.

10.13.2010
Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

I don't know.

08.23.2010
Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People

Sufjan Stevens released this "EP" completely out of nowhere this weekend, which I think is great, and is something artists should do more often. And while I'm only halfway through the first track (the 11-minute title track), the only thing that keeps coming to my mind is how similar it is, in a few different ways, to the music and arrangements on the new Joanna Newsom album (other than the fact that this is an EP and that was a triple LP). Which is awesome.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Pequod'sChicago
Deep dish sausage pizza

Since a polish and cheese fries and lime Oreo shake weren't quite enough, and since it's been a solid 7 or 8 years since I've last had "real" Chicago style pizza, we went for a legit bang bang, and ventured down to Pequod's, the former punk-rock bar in Lincoln Park that some of the more in-touch locals (and Anthony Bourdain, for what it's worth) would happily tell you is the best deep dish in town, better than that slop they serve you at Gino's East and Lou Malnatti's, and, god forbid, Giordano's. I wouldn't disagree with them necessarily, but in fairness it's been years and years since I've had Gino's, I don't think I've ever had Lou's. But yes, Giordano's is trash. But Pequod's, hell, I have have no complaints! It was a damn good pie! So, sure! Trust those who know. And just order a small. You'll be fine.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Susie's Drive ThruChicago
Polish, Green River Oreo shake

Stop #2 on my one-day whirlwind trip to Chicago: Susie's Drive Thru. This is some Chicago insider shit, you guys. You won't find it on lists, you won't find it in your local alt-weekly, you won't see it on the Food Network. But it's what dreams are made of. One of those tiny little corner joints way out in the boonies of Chicago, far enough away from the train that the cool kids will never make it there, with a menu that somehow has about 120 items on it, all of which are terrible for your health, but great for everything else, and at least 60 of which are probably delicious. I can personally vouch for the Maxwell polish and the Chicago dog and the cheese fries. But the main attraction here is some real batshit nonesense: The Green River Oreo shake. Green River, see, is some little midwestern-based citrus soda—think a slightly more limey Sprite. The Green River Oreo shake, then, is a shake with Green River and Oreos in it. The idea of mixing Oreos with limey citrus pop doesn't immediately sound too appealing. But let me tell you, it works. God knows how, but it works. Susie's isn't going to franchise any time soon, and I couldn't even tell you how to get there if you're ever in Chicago (do they even have a website or Yelp listing?), but if you happen to get lost and look up and see its glorious neon trim, do it.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Jaimito'sChicago
Al pastor taco

Jaimito's is one of hundreds of neighborhood taco joints in Chicago, so this isn't me trying to rank it or compare to any of the others. This just just me saying, "Hey, I was in Chicago and I was hungry so I popped in to this place called Jaimito's and got a taco. It was pretty good, and even though it was a traditional style taco place, they also put lettuce and shredded cheese on the taco, and I'm totally okay with that because it tasted good."

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Emily's Lebanese DeliNortheast Minneapolis
Raw kibbeh, cabbage rolls

Lebanese seems to be the most modest of middle eastern cuisines. Fresh, simple, lightly seasoned, beige. Downright pleasant. Emily's is a modest but beloved Lebanese place, just a couple blocks away from my apartment, surrounded by a couple Lebanese churches, and is so modestly pleasant that I often forget it's even there. But recently I remembered that it's there, and had a perfectly modestly pleasant dinner, which consisted of cabbage rolls, stuffed grape leaves, and the pièce de résistance: raw kibbeh. Yes, like the mediterranean version of beef carpaccio, kibbeh is basically uncooked ground beef and lamb, mixed with some grains and onion and spices, and served with a raw onion and pita. From what I've read about it, the secret to keeping kibbeh safe is also what makes it particularly delicious; it's all about knowing the butcher you're receiving the meat from, grinding it on a completely clean and sterile blade, and preparing the dish immediately before serving it. So while it's maybe a little scary in this day and age to eat a dish like this, the fact that it's made with such care (and high quality, freshly butchered meat), that the final product is outstanding. Much better than the sum of its parts. The cabagge rolls and grape leaves, meanwhile: eh. I prefer Kramarczuk's rolls. Still, if you ever want to give something different a shot, find your local Lebanese place (probably Emily's!), and go for the kibbeh. If you make it through the night, you won't regret it.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Portillo'sWoodbury
Italian beef sandwich

Portillo's is apparently a beloved Chicagoland hot dog and italian beef chain (dare I say "institution"?) that had somehow eluded my awareness during my previous visits. But they just opened their first Minnesota location, out in the aesthetically and morally repugnant city of Woodbury. I don't know how to properly describe this place; imagine Chris & Rob's, or some other 'Chicago style' eatery, set in a gigantic—almost Cosetta sized—Chicago themed amusement park restaurant, absolutely swarming with people (I imagine all of the Twin Cities area Chicago transplants took their Labor Day to venture out there), every nook and cranny and sign and uniform designed to evoke a particular old-timey Chicago hot-doginess.

A little bird had told me that they had the best Italian beefs in Chicago, but I have to say, I was a little let down. It wasn't bad. It was fine and good. But considering a meal at Portillo's demands a trip out to Woodbury and a battle against all the east metro has to offer, I think you're just as well off going to Chris & Rob's for your piles of wet Vienna beef and hot peppers.