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.

05.31.2019 - by Steve
Tacos El BroncoBrooklyn

There's a running thread in my New York food adventures, which I may or may not have written about already, and you may or may not have read about already, and it's this: Mexican food isn't that great here. I can't say that's true across the board, as I'm sure there's some exceptional Mexican spots to be found somewhere, but it seems to suffer from the same problem as this town's pizza, bagels, and deli sandwiches. It's as if every place, whether it's a counter service taqueria, a sit down joint, or a truck, gets all the same ingredients from all the same distributors. But unlike pizza and bagels, where the redundant offerings are at least of generally high quality, the average New York taco is just mostly fine I guess.

This does bring us to the Tacos El Bronco truck, which you think might be a "but here's the exception!" moment, but naaah. It's just as okay as every other one. But then it becomes even more disappointing because just a few hours before stumbling upon the truck in Sunset Park, I'd just read El Bronco mentioned on a short list of Best Tacos In Brooklyn. So I had my hopes up, and it didn't happen for me.

05.30.2019 - by Steve
Philadelphia GrillBrooklyn
Philly cheesesteak

Cheesesteak: Pretty good. Employees: Extremely deep Brooklyn and kinda intimidating and probably named Vinny. View of bridge: Superb.

05.20.2019 - by Steve
Wafa's ExpressBrooklyn
Falafel bowl

There's a recent New York Times review framed and hanging on the wall of Wafa's Express that closes with one of the most overwrought and hilariously food-criticesque sentences you'll ever read: And the scent: orange blossom and rose water, in the ashta, in the syrup and in the air, like a benediction. It's a counter-service falafel and shawarma place for cripes sake! And yet, shit, it's not wrong?

05.11.2019 - by Steve
Korean fried chicken

Korean fried chicken is very much a thing, and within the world of Korean fried chicken, Bonchon is generally the thing. I had Bonchon once, and honestly wasn't terribly impressed. Pelicana, meanwhile, seems to be a second fiddle of Korean fried chicken chains; the Qdoba to Bonchon's Chipotle. There's a couple of them around here, the first I saw in a (three level) food court in Koreatown, the other taking up a quaint corner bar space in Fort Greene. And I gotta say, based on just a single trip to each, I like Pelicana better than Bonchon. Juicier, spicier, just as crisp in very Korean chicken kind of way. It was extremely satisfying. Maybe a little overkill on the sauce, but that's a lousy complaint.

Addendum: While I was writing this, I did some quick research and discovered there's a Bonchon location in Minneapolis?? And it's been there since 2017?? Why didn't I know this!

04.29.2019 - by Steve
Spicy pork belly ramen, sausage buns

The gist: Extremely hot ramen, sweaty bros next to us couldn't handle it, incredible sausage buns, chicken wings that looked unbelievable but where only just pretty good. Momofuku is for real and surprisingly affordable and accessible. Just maybe think real hard about going spicy.