The Mars Volta

I'm not always in the mood for the Mars Volta. But when I'm in the mood for the Mars Volta, the Mars Volta is the greatest band of all time.

The Mars Volta
The Bedlam in Goliath

Libby gave me a book for my birthday a couple years ago. It's called 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. It's almost literally that--a guide to 1,000 different classic records of just about every genre, from jazz and classical to rock and punk and experimental. It's great, and almost always right on the money with its picks. One album, though, sticks out like a sore thumb: The Mars Volta's The Bedlam in Goliath. It's curious enough that they'd pick a Mars Volta album to begin with, but not totally beyond the pale. Deloused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute, while flawed, are both pretty definitive statements of early 2000s prog rock (as well as some of the most successful attempts at combing the two enemy genres of prog and punk). But Bedlam is just, I don't even know. Because when I went to iTunes to find out why the hell they picked that to be one of their 1,000 records, I realized I didn't even own it! The reviews were that negative, and I was that fed up with the band's infuriating inconsistency that I skipped it entirely (though funny enough I did pick up their next two over the following years). So to see what the fuss was about, and hoping that maybe I'd missed out on a true classic, I picked up a copy off Amazon. And the book was right about one thing: It's their most consistent album. There's very little throwaway noise filler, no 10 minute sound experiments. It's song based and rocking, front to back. Major problem, however: the songs stink. There's not much more to it than that. The fact that this record gets to live forever in a book alongside Mozart, Mingus and Metallica is baffling.

The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute

I can't get over how great the Mars Volta potentially is. I had a couple Frances the Mute tracks pop up on shuffle today, and my god when they were firing on all cylinders they were devastating. Just raw talent, pure energy, great melodies and everything you could ever ask for. But no band has ever been more in need of some record company suit to step in and say "Hey, maybe you guys oughtta cut 7 minutes out of that last one. Maybe add a chorus. You know, something for the kids." If they just could've followed the money and shot for the top 40, they might've been some of the greatest sellouts ever.

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta are a fancy, wiggly rubber lure, and I am but a mere sunfish, enjoying a swim and looking for something to eat. Preferably something wiggly. And they get me every damn time. I always seem to forget that their previous album was borderline unlistenable, as was the one before that and the one before that. And yet I purchase every one of them, hoping that this time--this time--they'll hit the jackpot and produce the all-time classic that I've been waiting for them to produce for the last six years. This new one is a little closer; at least it has songs on it. But even though they've gotten rid of a lot of the "masturbatory" incoherence (by the way, that phrase as it applies to the Mars Volta is worthy of an entire essay someday), but in my mind it is the combination of this masturbatory incoherence and revelatory hooks and rhythms that made those--sigh---two songs on their first album so perfect. I probably need to stop kidding myself. They're just not going to get there. But mark my word, about 16 months from now, when they release their next album, with its fantastic artwork and press release hype, the Mars Volta will be pulling a bloody hook out of my lip and frying me up with some cracker crumbs and butter. And tartar sauce.

04.06.2019 - by Steve
John's DeliBrooklyn
Johnny roast beef

I've been slowly eating through a list of Brooklyn's greatest old-school sandwich joints. This is a sandwich town, they say, and I'd like to think I'm a sandwich guy. I haven't posted about all of them on here, because basically they've all brought me to the same conclusion: pretty good I guess, but not amazing.

I can't make any conclusions of why this is. Maybe it's that everyone gets the same ingredients from the same distributors. Maybe they don't just make'em like they used to. Maybe they were never great to begin with? But even though I've gotten to visit some weird deep Brooklyn neighborhoods, heard some sweaty Brooklyn accents, and seen some fantastic old-school hand painted signage and menu boards (hey Lioni's), this sandwich odyssey has left me where I was when I started: The greatest sandwich I've ever eaten is still the roast beef from Clancey's Meats, and the greatest Italian sandwich I've ever eaten is still from (world's largest sigh) Jersey Mike's.

Anyway, the Johnny roast beef from John's Deli is at least interesting enough to post here. Just look at that photo. We've got some fresh sliced roast beef (although not as fresh as the aforementioned Clancey's), some caramelized onions, and a liberal helping of their "famous" beef gravy. It's simple, but it's not something you can find at the thousands of other delis around town. And it's tasty! And rich! But man, if this is really one of the great New York Sandwiches, I don't know what to think of this place anymore.

04.05.2019 - by Steve
Thai Farm KitchenBrooklyn
Kao thod nhaem klook, pad thai

The week we moved in to this apartment in the lovely Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, we ordered in some Thai food. As one does. I'd been warned in advance that the Thai food "scene" in New York isn't as good as you might expect, and that most places in town (with the exception of one particular restaurant in Queens, but we'll save that for another time) serve basically the same decent generic American Thai food you can get anywhere between here and Des Moines. So with expectations low, I was caught off guard by how good, and how unique the food from this Thai Farm Kitchen was. Nothing particular drew us to this place over the 3 or 4 other nearby options; it was just a new-ish, cute-ish little joint in the middle of our weird, not-quite-yet-gentrified Russian and Bangladeshi neighborhood. But the menu had some interesting options on it, and the food we got was all fantastic. We lucked out.

Fast forward, like, two months. I'm doing laundry across the street on a weekday night, and I notice there's a line out the door (mid-winter, mind you) at Thai Farm Kitchen. The next week it's the same. Then we try to go there to eat on a Saturday night—two hour wait. We try again a couple weeks later—hour and a half wait. The place is constantly packed. The secret is out, not so lucky anymore.

Turns out, as we guessed after the first couple attempts, that in fact the New York Times wrote a very positive review of the place, and that seems to be simultaneously a holy anointment and a kiss of death in this city. Great for them, because I'm sure they're suddenly making double the money the ever imagined making in their first year. But damn, we found our little place, and now we're stuck out in the cold!

Anyway, we finally got in the other night, and it was no fluke. The food is up there with the best Thai I've had anywhere, the menu is just left of standard (they serve their pad thai with fried calamari, which doesn't sound exciting, but it adds a lot!), and the staff is downright charming. By this time next year, we ought to be able to get a table there on a weekend again.

03.23.2019 - by Steve
Federoff's Roast PorkBrooklyn
Roast pork sandwich

Federoff's is a little slice of an eatery just off the annoying strip of Bedford in Williamsburg, humbly promising a Philadelphia away from Philadelphia, including cheesesteaks (of course), scrapple, and the true jewel of Philly cuisine, roast pork sandwiches. Really, the cheesesteaks and scrapple are of secondary concern; the roast pork is right there in the title.

Federoff's is doing everything right. The sandwich looked delicious, the pork was clearly fresh and roasted in house, as was the broccoli rabe, the hoagie roll is satisfyingly chewy without being tough, and the vibe of the place is full-on effortless charm. So why didn't I like it?

I didn't like it! it should've been amazing but I didn't like it! Issue one is that the pork, for as fresh and juicy as it was, simply tasted like pork fat. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be; I've only had one legit Philly roast pork before (see: Paesano's, which was amazing). But it just lacked any sort of seasoning that you'd expect in an ostensibly Italian roast. The Paesano's pork I ate last year was something closer to porchetta—porky, yes, but balanced with garlic, oregano, salt, all the good stuff. This Federoff's pork was almost as if they threw the pork shoulder in the oven totally bare and called it done, which left it not exactly bland, but in fact overwhelmed with an off-putting flavor of cheap pork fat. The next issue was in the broccoli rabe. It was bitter. Way too bitter. That's what you get with rabe when you don't do it exactly right, and apparently they didn't do it right. The Philly sandwich rabe is also usually full of garlic and lemon—something you can actually get at Italian delis all over Philly and New York—but this was just lacking. Total bitterness. Top it off (literally) with some pickled cherry peppers that didn't help any of the issues, and you've got a real disappointing lunch. I just sat there and ate in disbelief, because like I said earlier, it looked so good! It should've blew my mind. Maybe the scrapple will?