03.19.2018
The Decemberists
I'll Be Your Girl

I was going to say this is the worst Decemberists album, but then I remembered Hazards of Love exists, so I'm not very sure anymore.

10.09.2015
The Decemberists
Florasongs EP

Remember that new album the Decemberists put out earlier this year? Yeah, me neither. (Aww, Steve, that was mean. It wasn't bad!) Well this is a little post-LP EP, with a handful of songs that didn't make the cut of that album that was already seemingly full of songs that didn't make their cut from their previous album—which I honestly think was one of their best, and should've been their swan song. Anyhow, Florasongs isn't bad, nor is it particularly impressive or interesting. A few good songs that could've made good replacements for Beautiful World's clunkers, one clunker of its own, and a couple nice breezy sweet nothings. That's about it. Good enough!


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03.27.2015
The Decemberists
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

I'll write something here eventually.

06.04.2011
The Decemberists
The Crane Wife

Get this: The Crane Wife is actually pretty great. Wow. I guess I couldn't really appreciate it until I lived with the Hazards Of Love monstrosity for a couple years. Well played, Meloy.

01.23.2011
The Decemberists
The King Is Dead

What's funny is that the more I've listened to this album in the last few days, it hit me that this "new" "radio friendly" version of the Decemberists is actually closer to their very first EP, 5 Songs, than any of their ensuing full lengths. I could easily imagine an alternate universe where The King Is Dead was the major label debut of the band after some A&R guy discovered 5 Songs, as if the intervening seven years never happened, and "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" was just a one-off novelty, as opposed to the basis for the rest of their career. Also funny, when you listen to King and 5 Songs back to back is how the Decemberists have taken a similar route as Belle And Sebastian in transforming themselves from scrappy amateurs to impeccable studio vets; they may be the same band, but by god they can actually play their instruments now.

01.18.2011
The Decemberists
The King Is Dead

A breath of fresh air after Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife, that is for sure. Easily their most earnest work yet, albeit not nearly their best. A little overkill on the harmonica and pedal steel, as well. But still good. Good. As odd as it sounds, however, I'm struck by a feeling that this could very well be the last Decemberists album. I have no reason to believe that, and please don't go around giving them any ideas, but something about the vibe here makes me think that they've hit that, "Okay, we've accomplished everything and maybe it's time to move on" point. If I was in the band, I wouldn't know where to go from here. They did the build up to the prog rock opera (uh, twice), and now are doing the solid country rock studio band thing. Where else do they go? Their separate ways, that's where. Don't say I didn't warn you.

08.31.2010
The Decemberists
Castaways and Cutouts

Splendidezine (or just "Splendid," to remove the wonderfully anachronistic descriptor "e-zine" from the title) was once a competitor to the now-mighty Pitchfork, but called it quits back in 2005. It's funny to go back and look at the site, which is still online, nowadays. It's like a time capsule, stuck a half decade in the past, with outdated graphic design, and randomly loading reviews on the front page from bands you and I have never heard of, and will never hear of again. But in the upper right of the page is a link, still alive, to the last feature interview they every did, with Grizzly Bear, years before they became the indie powerhouse they currently are. And in a way, that's perfect, because it really sums up everything that was great about Splendid. They ignored trends, they reviewed everything they received, and they never gave anything a quantifiable grade. They simply described what the music sounded like, who it might appeal to, and what positive attributes it had. Nothing was panned, nothing was ripped, nothing was lionized. And best of all, they offered audio samples of every record. That doesn't sound like a big deal now, but back in 2002 it was practically unheard of. Even Pitchfork only recently started linking to samples. Splendid had one for every album, right there on the page (in RealAudio format. Talk about dated.) But all these things combined to make Splendid the best place to actually find good new music. Hell, they pointed me towards the Decemberists months before they were even on the radar at most other music sites. And now they're dead.

03.22.2010
The Decemberists
Always The Bridesmaid EP

"Valerie Plame" is still a great, great song. And listening to it today really made me long for the 'old' Decemberists, despite the fact that the song could probably be considered 'new.' (Are we looking at two Decemberists, like how we have two Metallicas? Pre-Crane Wife and post-Crane Wife? Seems fair to me.)

03.26.2009
The Decemberists
The Hazards Of Love

Well, it seems that they've done it. The Decemberists have released an album that I just plain don't like. You can read my previous post about the album if you really care about why I don't like it, because my opinion hasn't really changed since then. Hell, you could read just about every other Decemberists post on here, because the theme has remained the same: They're just a better band, and Colin Meloy a better songwriter, when they stick to more humble pop songs. I don't mean that to bash them or something; their "humble pop songs" are exponentially better than 99% percent of their peers'. But it seems to me that they've already proven with The Tain that they can do a hard rockin' conceptual song set, but have also proven with The Crain Wife that they maybe shouldn't stretch that into an entire full length. I'm already just about tired of listening to it, and I can't imagine coming back to it much in the future, which is something I can't say for any of their other releases. Oh well; six out of seven isn't too shabby, I guess.

03.24.2009
The Decemberists
The Hazards of Love

11 tracks into the new Decemberists record and I've yet to actually hear a song. Lots of intros, a couple choruses, a handful of bridges, and a vamp here and there, but nothing that I would qualify as a "song." If you told me 5 years ago that the Decemberists would release a dark, heavy, experimental rock opera, I would've taken an entire bottle of sleeping pills and set my alarm for March 2009, because it just sounds too perfect. But now that it's here... I don't know. At least I have my new Mastodon album to look forward to. I just hope it's not a collection of anachronistic folk pop ditties about sailors and scallywags.

12.07.2008
The Decemberists
Always The Bridesmaid: A Singles Series

After looking for weeks to find it, I finally came across the Decemberists' "Always A Bridesmaid" records at the Cheapo on Snelling. It's a series of three vinyl-only singles (and B-sides) that aren't on any other albums or EPs, and are well worth the somewhat ridiculous pricetag. They all have beautiful die-cut and silver leafed packaging, and (as usual) cool illustrations by Carson Ellis. But beyond all that, the music is all really solid--especially first song "Valerie Plame," which is probably the best song they've done since "The Sporting Life." Most of the songs really prove a point I made on my previous Decemberists post; for all the focus they've put lately on big "proggy" arrangements and epic, quirky historical English-major lyrics, they might be at their best when sticking to simple pop tunes with much simpler lyrical themes. I mean, really, would you rather spend your time listening to "The Infanta," or "Grace Cathedral Hill"? And no, the answer can't be "neither."

11.30.2008
The Decemberists
Castaways And Cutouts

Enough years have past now that I'm just going to go ahead and say it: I think Castaways and Cutouts is the Decemberists' best album. Yes, everything they've done since has all been excellent in its own right, but there's something about Castaways that lets it dodge some of the potholes that their later albums occasionally hit. Since it was their first album, there's a certain lack of self-consciousness that makes all of the ridiculous lyrics seem just a little more honest, and the arrangements are interesting, upbeat, but never overblown. Basically, they weren't trying to outdo themselves yet. Funny how when it came out, everything written about them compared them (favorably and otherwise) to Neutral Milk Hotel. And now, listening to the record years later, that comparison doesn't enter my mind for a second.

08.08.2018 - by Steve
OMCDuluth
Barbecue

I'm going to try to not be too critical of OMC because honestly, Duluth needs good places to eat. And not just good places to eat, but good places to eat that are away from the Canal Park / Fitgers continuum. This place is in a little business strip in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which is cool and neighborhoody and up-and-coming and I didn't even know it existed until now. But also it's weird and gross, because this entire block is seemingly owned by the Bent Paddle Brewery, OMC included. So between OMC, and the "Detroit style" deli, and the cool ice cream place, you're basically just spending your night at a glorified brewery food truck lot. It's weird.

Oh also did I mention that OMC stands for "Oink, Moo, Cluck?" Yep.

So anyway, their barbecue is good. It all has that extra 'something' that makes it stand out from your standard barbecue, a little oddball seasoning here and there, some nutmeg maybe, who knows. And the pulled pork has that porchetta vibe that makes sense for the north country. My problem (as usual) comes because I'm a cheap jerk: It's just too expensive for what you get. The portions are decent-ish for a regular restaurant, but not for a bbq joint. That would maybe fly over in Canal Park, but this is a Locals Only street. It's not expensive real estate. You can't be charging this much for not all that much meat. Plus there's no bread! No bread! Just throw some Wonderbread on the plate, OMC! Help us out here! Plus, even though I enjoyed the little extra 'something' in the meats, they kept adding somethings into the sides, until it was all too much. They need to find some very simple, baseline flavors that you can pile all the good good meat on top of!

How bizarre.

07.29.2018 - by Steve
TerzoSouth Minneapolis
Duck breast, mushroom bolognese

Other than its occasionally outstanding Porchettaria sandwich window, I've never given Terzo much thought. I knew it was owned by the Broders people, and of course I love Broders Cucina and very much like Broders Pasta Bar, but something about Terzo always made me think "this isn't for me." Well so, we just tried to go to Broders Pasta Bar, and it was too long of a wait, and Broders Cucina sounded a little too basic for our fancy dinner needs. So we went to Terzo. And listen: It was one of the better "good" meals I've had in a while. This place is le-g-g-git, and should be included in any conversation about the best restaurants in this town, which I don't think it's been heretofore.

07.28.2018 - by Steve
Hamburguesa El GordoSouth Minneapolis
Tacos, hot dog

Hamberguesa El Gordo is a dream. It's exactly what this city needs more of.

07.24.2018 - by Steve
The Naughty GreekSt. Paul
Lamb

I hate that this place is called The Naughty Greek, I hate their logo, I hate the graphics on their wall, and I hate that they call it "Athenian street food." But this is honestly the best Greek food I've had in the cities. Wildly good.

07.23.2018 - by Steve
Mucci'sSt. Paul
Lasagna, donuts

A Mucci's review, in 3 parts.

Part I:
I live in St. Paul now. Maybe I've told you this. Less than a block from where I recently moved to—really more like on the back side of my block and down a few lots—is Mucci's, an Italian restaurant. Mucci's popped up a short time ago. A year? Two years? I don't know exactly, because it's St. Paul, and as I said, I didn't live in St. Paul before now. But Mucci's didn't exist before, and suddenly it exists. And it's weird. Because it should be a "good" restaurant; small corner space, no big annoying sign, quiet residential neighborhood which isn't quite to the point of being "up and coming" just yet, just trying to play it cool. But then, just as suddenly, the local grocery store chain is selling Mucci's frozen pizzas! This doesn't make sense. How can this place suddenly be selling frozen pizzas while also being a small, respectable little neighborhood Italian restaurant?

Part II:
You know that thing people say about eating at a good restaurant on a Sunday night? Where they say "You shouldn't eat at a good restaurant on a Sunday night"? I think maybe that might've been the problem. Because we first ate at Mucci's on a Sunday night, and it was rough. Undercooked garlic bread. Undercooked noodles. Lasagna that was both burnt and seemingly reheated from about 2 days previous. I think it all could've been good; not amazing, but good. But they seemingly just had the C-squad staff on for that Sunday night, and were just getting rid of Friday's lasagna. In short, it was a huge bummer.

Part III:
Did I mention I live in St. Paul now, just around the corner from Mucci's? Because another weird thing about the place that I learned from walking past the sandwich board outside is that they serve donuts on the weekends! Just like all the Italian restaurants in Italy! So even after the weird-to-bad experience on that Sunday night, they're still the closest place to get a donut on a Sunday morning. The first donut attempt was a minor letdown; much like many high-priced "good" donuts in the world, they just didn't cut it. They were weirdly wet, hard to eat, and not really worth the price. However, on the second donut attempt (really the third Mucci's attempt in general, which is incredible considering how hard they blew the first one), there was light. The parmesan cheese donut. We're talking just a regular cake donut, with a subtle glaze on it, not too sweet, and topped with sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan. I don't know if this is a thing that other donut places have tried, but something about the savory bite of the cheese on top of a just slightly sweet donut really, really worked. Really one of the best fancy donuts I've ever had. My only real gripe is that it's too big, and hard to eat much more than half of the donut, since the cheese gets rich. But dang, this donut was good enough to make me want to give Mucci's a fourth chance.

07.20.2018 - by Steve
Ripper'sBrooklyn
Hot dog

I went to Rockaway Beach on the hottest day of the year in New York. It was a scene. Like, every 20-something from every corner of Brooklyn dressed up in their most Instagrammable beach gear—which in one case meant full jeans and combat boots—trying to be the coolest and casualest beachgoer at the beach, quietly judging each other's tattoos, sometimes even swimming. I was there with two bags full of packed clothes and laptop gear, basically killing time before going to the airport, so I wasn't able to catch any waves. But I did hit up Ripper's, the beachside grill and bar that is apparently operated by some popular Brooklyn burger joint or another, and was completely swarmed with all of the very cool Brooklynites mentioned above. Usually I never would've bothered standing in such a long line, but I had nothing else to do, so I did. And it was a good hot dog! Like a classic charcoal-grilled dog you'd have at a barbecue. It was delicious. And not at all worth it.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
Sorriso'sQueens
Meatball sandwich, sopressata sandwich

This is the most New York place in New York. I actually heard the guy behind the counter say "gabagool." And they make some damn fine sandwiches.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
JollibeeQueens
Fried chicken, spaghetti, cheeseburger

New York City! Perhaps the greatest culinary destination in the world! It's got everything! Pizza pie! A spicy a meat a ballsa! Bagels! Enough Michelin stars to light up the night sky! Invitation-only chef dinners, $500 a plate steakhouses, experimental ice cream speakeasies, authentic Puerto Rican food served by grandmas with Weber grills on the sidewalk. You can't throw a stick in New York without it hitting the best restaurant you've ever eaten at. Or it'll hit Jollibee.

I've been fascinated by Jollibee for nearly 10 years now. I have a gross fascination in general with regional chains; whenever I go on a road trip, I generally try to find some sort of fast food restaurant that is native to the place I'm in. Jollibee is sort of an extreme version of that. There are hundreds of Jollibee locations in the Philippines and south Asia, sort of a Filipino McDonalds. But when I heard that there was one single location in New York, right in the heart of Queens, it's been near the top of my list of NYC restaurant destinations. Near the top. So, yeah, it's taken me a while to get there. Until now!

And as is often the case with international interpretations of American cuisine, it's just a little off. The main draw here is fried chicken. Or as they call it, "Chickenjoy." Fine. And actually kinda spicy and decent. But the next big item is spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti. Although this is a bit of a regional take on the dish, with a sweeter and more bell-pepper-infused sauce than our traditional marinara. It almost tastes like ketchup with some spices. I know. Lastly, of course, are burgers. Their cheeseburger is actually nearly hidden on the menu, so it must not be a best seller. But interestingly, it was the best thing I had! It obviously wasn't a great burger, but it was very enjoyable! I'd honestly take it over a standard McDonalds burger if you were to make me choose. Oddly, it reminded me of when I was a kid and refused to eat Chinese food, and my parents would order me a cheeseburger at the Chinese restaurant. I don't know if it's the type of oil or what, but there's a very particular flavor to the char on the burger that I can't quite describe.

Anyway, Jollibee is weird. Real weird. I can't say you should go there, but if you are in New York for the 5th or 6th time and feel like treating yourself to something that's maybe the most New York of all.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
Jezabel'sPhiladelphia
Empanadas

Here's a fun and random one! Just a couple blocks from where we were staying in Philadelphia was a tiny little Argentinian cafe called Jezabel's. "Fun?", you ask? I guess a small Argentinian cafe in a historic residential Philadelphia neighborhood could be fun on its own, but in this case, we happened to hit up Jezabel's right while Argentina was playing France in the World Cup! We were just stopping in quick to get some small bites before leaving for the bus station, but found this tiny little place crowded with people in blue and white Argentina jerseys watching the game on a huge flatscreen TV just sitting up on the bar. This place is really like the size of a small coffee shop, so even a dozen revelers made it feel super packed. And fun. So we stayed a bit and ate some empanadas. Which, for real, were some of the best empanadas I've ever eaten! I had two kinds: beef, and ham & cheese. The beef was fairly standard, but wonderfully flavorful, and the dough was flaky and tender and perfect, not stale or greasy like you could find at some other shops. Meanwhile, the ham and cheese—for which I kept my expectations low—was even better. I don't know why I thought it was just going to be cruddy cheddar cheese and off-the-shelf ham, but this thing had layers of flavor! I couldn't tell you what kind of cheese, or what else might've been in it, but damn, it was good. And I don't think I can get anything like it in this town.

Then Argentina gave up a couple goals and everyone was bummed.

07.09.2018 - by Steve
Paesano's Philadelphia
Roast pork sandwich

Regular readers of this site (lol) might remember last year's trip to Philadelphia, where of course I had to get a cheesesteak from Pat's, or Geno's, or wherever else who cares it was very mediocre. Meanwhile, True Food Knowers will tell you that the Real Philadelphia Foodstuff is actually the roast pork sandwich. Which is: roast pork (either sliced, pulled, or chopped), sharp provolone cheese, and Italian marinated broccoli rabe, on a hoagie bun. That broccoli rabe is key, sort of like the pickle on a Chicago dog, or giardiniera on an Italian beef. I've never seen that on any sandwich in the midwest, or anywhere else, really. (Although, spoiler alert, I think you can find it in some of the more legit Italian delis in New York too).

So on my latest trip to the east coast, my first stop in Philly was at Paesano's, one of the higher-recommended joints for a roast pork. It seems that Paesano's used to be a bit of a hole-in-the-wall freestanding mom-n-pop shop, but it's now sadly and sterilely seated on the first floor of a new-construction apartment development. Lame, but forgivable. But it's still a small little shop, with just a grill behind the counter, a chalkboard menu up top, and one guy with an incredible Philly accent running the place. I'd never actually heard one in person before. It was eye opening.

I'll say this: every sandwich on their menu looked amazing. I wanted all of them. They even had porchetta! But I had to go with the standard roast pork, since, you know, that's what I was there for. I ordered it, was told to pay when I was finished, grabbed a can of Coke from the fridge, sat down at a table, waited for the sandwich, received the sandwich, took a bite of the sandwich, and died from happiness.

Fuck the cheesesteak. The roast pork is the righteous truth.