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.

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.

05.24.2018 - by Steve
Crepe & SpoonNortheast Minneapolis
Peanut butter and jelly

You can probably imagine my shock and despair when I looked at the menu board at Crepe & Spoon, and saw that all but two flavors of their ice cream was vegan. Vegan ice cream!, I thought, This is bullshit! That's not even ice cream, there's no cream in it! Nowhere on the sign outside, or in the name of the place, does it say "Vegan" ice cream! False advertising! Shenanigans! Shenanigans!

Then you can also imagine my shock and bewilderment when I took a bite of this vegan ice cream product—peanut butter and jelly flavored—and it was creamy and sweet and gall dang delicious! The secret is that they use coconut milk instead of milk. Which adds up. So really any flavor you get—even peanut butter and jelly—is going to taste a little like coconut, which is weird for peanut butter and jelly. But whatever.

05.22.2018 - by Steve
Dusty'sNortheast Minneapolis
Dago

I've gone my whole adult life assuming Dusty's dago sandwiches had marinara on them. Am I wrong? 1 point deduction, but still a solid sandwich.

05.01.2018 - by Steve
Holy Land DeliNortheast Minneapolis
Philly cheesesteak

You might not believe me, but I'm going to say it anyway: the Holy Land has one of the best Philly cheesesteaks in the city. Not the best—that honor still goes to the former Galooney's, now Red's Savoy on Hennepin—but if you're dumb enough to make a trip to Holy Land and order something other than some delicious shawarma or falafel, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

05.01.2018 - by Steve
PezzoWhite Bear Lake
Chicago style deep dish pizza

Good Chicago style pizza is rare—and arguably non-existent—in the Twin Cities. Yeah, Giordano's has a couple locations now, but they were never the best to begin with, and Tommy Chicago's in Mendota Heights is a hidden gem, but nearly as much of a pain to drive to as Chicago itself. But the other night I tried a new spot up in White Bear Lake that had been mentioned in multiple 'Best Chicago Deep Dish' lists, Pezzo. Yes, White Bear Lake is nearly as far away as Mendota Heights (or more?), but it feels closer. Anyway, this place is almost hilarious in its suburban fanciness; brand new construction, a way-to-high ceiling, way too much space in between tables, curly-Q designs on the over-stuffed booths. It's trying to be the "nice" place that the northeast metro dwellers go for a dinner with the folks, or an awkward high school date. But yo: the deep dish was solid. Not quite Chicago-level legit, but a whole step above Giordano's and Frankie's (and to be honest, it's been so long since I've had Tommy Chicago's, I'll have to try it again to compare). But this was great Chicago pizza! Good proportion of crust to cheese, a unique tangy sauce, a ton of meat. The only thing they didn't quite nail in the way that the best deep dish places do, is the crispy end crust. You've got to get that shit caramelized. Pezzo's was crisp, yes, but it kind of fell apart upon cutting; it didn't have the buttery toothy chewiness that I wanted. But that's a lot to ask. I should also mention that everything else we ate—dinner salad and wedding soup and some appetizer meatballs—were all way better than we expected for such a place. So, hey, look, Pezzo in White Bear Lake! It's worth a trip maybe!

05.01.2018 - by Steve
Taco CatSouth Minneapolis
Tacos

Taco Cat is just as good as everyone says it is.

05.01.2018 - by Steve
Choo Choo BarLoretto
Choo Choo wings

You're probably never going to go to the Choo Choo Bar, out west on highway 12 in Loretto, Minnesota. But. If you do find yourself out west on highway 12 in Loretto, you should go to the Choo Choo Bar. Their menu isn't really different than any other random small town sports bar you've been to, but it's actually good! Specifically the Choo Choo wings, which are a completely dry wing, not even rubbed, just marinated, but are shockingly good. Don't ask me what they're marinated in—soy sauce and nutmeg?—but man. We were astounded at how good these sad looking dry wings were. Makes me want to finally try the famous Monte Carlo wings to see how they compare. Oh, and there's a choo choo in the bar!

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.