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.

01.21.2019 - by Steve
Hometown BarbecueBrooklyn
Barbecue pulled pork

Hometown Barbecue, way out in Red Hook, is supposedly one of the best barbecue joints in New York. Eater even had it on its list of 37(ish) "essential" NY restaurants. So it's kind of a bummer that we went there on a whim—a very fast whim before grocery shopping right next door on some random Wednesday night—rather than really planning out and luxuriating in its barbecueness. What did I get? I got the pulled pork and baked beans. How was it? It was quite good, although maybe a little too wet, with all the cole slaw slopped on the top. And the beans had been seemingly been sitting in the bottom of their pot for too long, and just had that "thrice cooked" kind of taste. I couldn've lived without the beans. But, yeah, the sandwich was good from what I remember of it. But also nothing terribly remarkable. Really what it reminded me of was Green Street Meats in Chicago. Almost like the owners visited Green Street during the planning stages and said, "This is the barbecue place we want to be!" Right down to the service style and christmas-lights-in-old-warehouse decor. So for further detail, scroll back to, say, 2011, and read my Green Street Meats write-up. I'm sure it'll apply here.

01.21.2019 - by Steve
JojuQueens
Banh mi

The difference between NYC and Minneapolis (well, St. Paul) Vietnamese places is pretty noticeable. The Twin Cities are known as a pretty good area for Vietnamese food, and that's true, but that seems to come mostly in the form of mom-n-pop, hole in the wall joints. The exceptions are few—Ngon Bistro is maybe the only fine-dining Vietnamese spot, and only in the last couple years are places like Lu's trying fast-casual-ify the pho space. (I can't believe I just typed that). But all in all, Twin Cities Vietnamese feels very much like an immigrant group simply wanting to feed themselves and have a taste of home, and if curious Minnesotans want to get some lemongrass chicken, great.

In New York, meanwhile, Vietnamese feels much more like a trend. The restaurants are younger, cooler, expensiver. I've seen very few 'hole in the wall' banh mi joints, relative to NY's uber density of course, compared to MSP. And the cheaper, counter service ones are often more like the subject of this food post, Joju. Located in a very heavily Asian neighborhood in Queens (and I mean "Asian" non-accidentally; we're talking Korean restaurants next to Thai grocery stores next to specifically Taiwanese restaurants. American melting pot, etc. etc.), Joju is what one might call "cool". But not in a Williamsburg pink neon sense, more in an "anime sandwich mascots and K-pop record cover" sense. It also, like many of these places, touts itself almost as much as a bubble tea shop than it does a restaurant. Joju doesn't even have Coke!

But what they do have is delicious banh mi. We ordered two kinds, caramel pork and beef bulgogi. Oh, that's another thing—there seems to be some very blurred lines at NY banh mi shops in terms of which nation's cuisine is represented on this ostensibly Vietnamese sandwich. You're just as likely to see Korean bulgogi or Thai basil pork on the menu as the standard Vietnamese chicken or pork with pate. Which is fine by me. Anyway, the sandwiches were delicious. Maybe a little heavy on carrot, and the actual construction of the veggies and meat made for a slightly awkward eating experience, but they tasted great. They also represented one more difference that seems to separate NY banh mi from MSP banh mi: the bun was refreshingly soft. So many hole in the wall banh mi I'm used to seem to lean towards using chewy, crispy baguettes. But these NY versions are soft, and much easier to bite into. A much more satisfying experience in my opinion, and one that comes in to play with a lot of New York dough-based food, from pizza dough to bagels, simply to bread you're served at restaurants or find at bakeries. Whether it's the water or the high turnover or simply the quality of local bakeries, bread truly is better here than in the rest of the country. Crazy as it sounds.

So anyway, Joju. It's good. It's pretty deep into parts of Queens you might never go to, so maybe don't worry too much about it. There's probably others like it.

01.20.2019 - by Steve
Schnipper'sManhattan
Cheeseburger

Manhattan's got a lot of chain restaurants that aren't really chains yet, but are clearly trying to use the cachet that comes with simply being in Manhattan (usually Midtown) as a springboard to becoming a chain restaurant. The examples are so plentiful that I can barely even think of one right now. They're ubiquitous and almost entirely forgettable—forged so carefully by marketers and designers and focus groupers to create fast casual fried chicken sandwiches and vaguely ethnic salad bowls that appeal with a laser focus to newly moneyed 20 and 30 somethings, that they become invisible in their omnipresence. Hell, I posted about a fried chicken place just a month or two ago, my very first living-in-NY food post, and I don't even remember what it was called.

Anyway, Schnipper's isn't exactly that. Sorry, I don't know why I started with that whole paragraph rant. But it's at least something like it. It's a chain restaurant that exists solely within the island of Manhattan, as desperate as it seems to stretch beyond. Basically it's a fast-casual diner. We're talking classic, Mickey's-level burgers and fries and shakes, even served on those plain white diner plates. I had a cheeseburger there, and it was good. Why are there so many Schnipper's'es? I don't know. Why is it so popular? Is it?

12.31.2018 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2018Brooklyn
A List

Holy cow this is a jet-setting, internacional version of a year end food list! Minneapolis! St. Paul! And other cities! Anyway here's the list:

1. Hai Hai (Minneapolis) - Balinese chicken
2. Berber and Q (London) - Lamb shawarma
3. Nandos (Manchester) - Piri Piri Chicken
4. Paesano’s (Philadelphia) - Roast pork sandwich
5. Thai Cafe (St. Paul) - Sour pork ribs
6. Porchetteria (Minneapolis) - Porchetta
7. Werkstatt (Brooklyn) - Wienerschnitzel
8. The Naughty Greek (St. Paul) - Lamb
9. MT Noodles (Brooklyn Park) - Banh mi
10. Camping (North shore) - Grilled bbq chicken
11. Crepe and Spoon (Minneapolis) - Peanut butter and jelly vegan ice cream
12. Mission Chinese (Manhattan) - Kung pao pastrami
13. Sorriso’s (Queens) - Meatball sandwich
14. Tavial (St. Paul) - Al pastor tacos
15. Kingfisher (Manchester) - Fish and chips

12.31.2018 - by Steve
Malaysian JerkyManhattan
Malaysian Jerky

There's this tiny little shop in Chinatown that sells Malaysian jerky. I don't think they have a name, and they don't sell anything else. But I promise you, if you go to the Malaysian jerky shop and buy some Malaysian jerky, you will not be disappointed.

12.31.2018 - by Steve
WerkstattBrooklyn
Wienerschnitzel

I live within walking distance 4 halal Chinese restaurants, 3 Chinese-owned taco shops, 2 Uzbek restaurants, 5 Bangladeshi sweets shops, 3 kosher sushi bars, at least 1 Fiipino barbeque, and 1 very specifically Buffalo themed burger joint. And yet somehow the most surprising ethnic food I've found here in this beautiful melting pot of Kensington Brooklyn is an Austrian bar called Werkstatt. It's kind of like when you see Ingbertsen's Swedish store in the middle of Lake Street; something as seemingly dull and master-racey as that in the middle of all these seemingly endless spicy global options makes it stand out in a way that it might not otherwise. More exciting still is that Werkstatt is delicious! We split a plate of wienerschnitzel (and spaetzle, of course), and some paprika chicken, as well as a big fat fresh pretzel, and honestly I think it was my favorite meal in New York so far. Nothing was super unique or foodie about any of it, but it was just perfectly prepared and balanced, and whatever I was hoping for that night, they delivered. Plus the space is a pretty chill neighborhood bar, no hip European irony, no obnoxious minimalist modern touches. Just a place to chill and eat some fried pork and pickled starch.

12.13.2018 - by Steve
Church Avenue Deli CorpBrooklyn
Bacon egg and cheese on a roll

There are two things you need to do to officially become a Real New Yorker. One, you have to carry around a New Yorker canvas tote bag. You know the one. Second, you have to eat a bacon egg and cheese sandwich from a local bodega. This second one, I finally did, at my local unnamed generic Deli & Grocery. (Their official legal name is Church Avenue Deli Corp, which is what it says in small letters in their window, so for the sake of keeping this music and food blog impeccably organized on the back end, that's what I'm calling it). It cost me $3 (exactly) and tasted like bacon egg and cheese on a roll (exactly). That's all I have to say about it.

12.13.2018 - by Steve
LakruanaStaten Island
Sri Lankan buffet

The entirety of the Twin Cities contains one Sri Lankan restaurant. And I say "Twin Cities" because it's not even in Minneapolis or St. Paul, it's down in a strip mall in the boonies of Rosemount. Rosemount! In fact I think I've reviewed it on this very site. It's good. But I can't really compare it to other Sri Lankan restaurants because, like you may have read in the first sentence of this very paragraph, there are no other Sri Lankan restaurants in Minnesota to compare it to.

Meanwhile, just across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in cruddy old Staten Island—the dumbest borough—there are seven Sri Lankan restaurants to enjoy! That isn't to say that there are exponentially more in the rest of New York; Staten Island is actually home to a disproportionate percentage of the city's Sri Lankan population, therefore restaurants. And not just restaurants, but buffets! The most beloved of them—its presence whispered like fables amongst the intrepid food aesthetes of Brooklyn and Manhattan, rumors of spices and pastes unrivaled yet uneaten because how the fuck am I supposed to even get to Staten Island?—is Lakruana. An almost entirely inconspicuous place on the outside, just a Asian restaurant-y looking front door in the midst of electric supply stores and loose trash and who even knows what else, on the inside Lakruana is a fucking wonderland. Supposedly they've imported nearly everything in this place from Sri Lanka, from wire and rope chairs to wooden roof tiles, to cast iron pots with the buffet is actually served out of. I'd say the effect is "crazy" if that wasn't culturally xenophobic of me, so maybe I'll stick with "sensorially bounteous." Or rather, "It's a hoot." The food itself was quite good, because what little Sri Lankan food I've had is always quite good, and far richer and more varied than a lot of straight Indian food, but thinking back on it I don't really remember the details. But man was it a good trip to a Sunday buffet. I'd highly recommend checking it out if you have any idea how to get to Staten Island.

12.08.2018 - by Steve
Yummy TacoBrooklyn
Tacos

Oh man, I've been living in Brooklyn (did I mention I'm living in Brooklyn?) for over a month now and I realized I've only updated Music and Food once. I'm a busy man, okay! And also, there's just too much. I couldn't really cook for the first couple weeks, so I ate way too many meals out at way too many places, and I don't even want to start trying to M&F all of them. Which isn't to say this is some wonderland of the best food you've ever eaten on every block. In reality, it's just a place with some restaurants like anywhere else. There just happens to be so many people everywhere that there are so many restaurants and delis and cafes to feed them all. But what this really means is that there's mediocrity everywhere. Which I mean lovingly. Just regular weird "how does this place stay open?" food everywhere you look. Case in point: Yummy Taco. This is a taco joint, obviously, but one that is fully owned and operated by Chinese people, in the space which very obviously used to be a Chinese restaurant. As a relief from New York's many "real" Mexican places—which are surprisingly not very good, and deserving of an entire essay on their own—this is very much American Mexican. "Mom tacos," as a friend once called them. Flour tortillas, cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce. I kinda love it. And for as weird as Yummy Taco is, weirder still: it's a chain. There's at least 4 other locations of this Chinese owned American Mexican restaurant. New York is weird.

11.08.2018 - by Steve
Blue Ribbon Fried ChickenManhattan
Fried chicken sandwich

Hey! Look! Music & Food is officially 10 years old! That's fucking weird, right?

I'd recommend you don't go back into the archives and find my first official post on here. It's an embarrassing misreading of Randy Newman's "Sail Away." But more than that, it's a hopeful and optimistic misreading of the state of America in 2008. I'd been working on building this new music and food blog as an outlet to practice some nascent coding skills, and it just so happened that the site was ready to launch just a couple days after the beautiful and magic election night, when we all felt great and the future was wide open. But now, exactly 10 years later, that beauty and magic has been gutted by people who hate beauty and magic. But also there's no such thing as magic.

And also, holy shit, I live in New York now?? And this is my first official New York food post! And it's Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, which I hit up while running an errand in the East Village (because I now run errands in the East Village). It looks delicious, and is stocked with a number of great looking hot sauces and honeys. But just like the magic of November 2008, sometimes looks can be deceiving.

Mac and cheese was good though.