04.18.2020
The Mountain Goats
Songs for Pierre Chuvin

I never got into the Mountain Goats until they (he) was past their (his) extremely lo-fi, record-directly-into-a-boombox-cassette phase. My intro happened I believe around 2009 when The Life of the World To Come was released, which more or less marked the beginning of what might be phase three of the Mountain Goats. We're talking full band, pristinely engineered, studio recorded collections of songs which generally floated around (or directly interrogated) a single theme—not quite rock opera style, but far more linear than the lyrical concerns of most other bands. Life of The World still feels like a wonderful album to me, but in the 10 years since, I have to admit their output has suffered from long, slow, diminishing returns. And despite the thematic differences (one album about professional wrestling, one album about a D&D campaign), their studio sound has sounded more or less the same from album to album. Crisp and clean and full, yes, but the spark from those early boombox recordings has been sanded off almost completely.

But then what happened—have you heard?—is we're suddenly living in these difficult times. John Darnielle is stuck at home, and is sitting on a pile of songs. And whether he came up with the idea, or whether hoards of his fans shouted the idea at him after hearing him play some of his new songs into his smartphone camera, he decided to get his old boombox out and record Songs for Pierre Chuvin

It's a minor revelation. The joy of hearing him shout these words onto a tinny hissing cassette tape is genuinely refreshing. I don't think the studio sheen was ever hurting the Mountain Goats necessarily, but you hear him play these songs and you realize how unnecessary it's been, like we've been missing out on something essential about his songs for the last decade.

But that's the other thing. I don't know if these songs are exactly up to the task. They're interesting, they're clever, they make you want to know what's going on (did I mention the whole album is based off a book by a Harvard historian about the pagan cultures of the 5th century AD who were confronting the new specter of mass Christianity entering their worlds? That's what the album is about. That's what the phase three Mountain Goats do). But no single track on it has the power of his best early work. "This Year," "No Children," "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton", these are the obvious 3, but the list could go on well beyond that. Those songs were deeply human, richly described, absolutely cutting in a real way. I don't remember the last song Darnielle has written that's cut to a core in the way that these do, and none of the songs on Songs for Pierre Chuvin hit that mark, despite the boombox.

Still, simply listening to Darnielle sing his guts out into a boombox was exactly what some of us needed right now. Well, until we were asked to Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

12.10.2015
The Mountain Goats
Get Lonely / We Shall All Be Healed

Continuing my dive into Mountain Goats fandom, I just picked up both Get Lonely and We Shall All Be Healed in a used bin the other night. And I'm gonna go ahead and clump them into the same review. They're both good. They're goth listenable. They seem to create a dividing line between 'old' and 'new' Mountain Goats; Healed is a little rough around the edges, natural distortion and tape noise, while Lonely has a crip studio clarity to it, as well as more gentle piano and guitar strums. But neither fully satisfy me like some other MG collections, and beyond maybe "Home Again Garden Grove," there don't seem to be any knockout singles on either record. Still.


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10.04.2015
The Mountain Goats
The Sunset Tree

It took me until I was 33 years old to fully appreciate the teenage discontent of the Mountain Goats. I love it. I mean, I've been a huge fan of The Life of the World to Come, and was more or less appreciative of his other work, but that was it. But the more I dig into it, the more it all makes sense. Tallahassee is quite good, All Hail West Texas is better still, but I think The Sunset Tree is perhaps the purest example of what it is John Darnielle can do.

10.14.2012
The Mountain Goats
Transcendental Youth

Continuing right along with their last album (only about a year ago), I can't really point at a single thing wrong with this new Mountain Goats record, but it doesn't excite me at all. I totally respect what they do, and still absolutely love The Life of the World To Come, but it seems now about 15 years into their (his?) career, they're starting to tread a little water.

04.04.2011
The Mountain Goats
All Eternals Deck

Hmm. Not feeling it yet. I'll let you know.

12.21.2009
The Mountain Goats
The Life Of The World To Come

Despite the running joke of my supposedly unabashed love for The Mountain Goats, I had never actually owned any of their (his) albums until this one. At first I enjoyed it, but didn't think much of it. But after a week or two, I found myself constantly revisiting it, finding something there that kept me hooked. Now after a month or two, I can honestly say it's one of my favorite albums of this year, some songs being the most heartbreaking I've ever heard, and others being so stupidly catchy that they leave me with no choice but to enjoy them. It's all in the lyrics, as this guy is clearly a writer first and a musician second. But there are some gorgeous, stand-out lines in some of these songs. "Drive til the rain stops / keep driving." "People screaming when the engines quit / I hope we're all in crash position when we hit." "I remember seeing you / my tongue struck dumb / When you first came here from wherever it is you came from." But I'll stop that now, lest I become the kind of idiot who quotes song lyrics on the internet.

06.15.2020 - by Steve
HanoiBrooklyn
Noodle salad with pork

In the last couple weeks of this Covid lockdown, I've been enjoying the basic pleasure of eating outside. Not on a restaurant patio (they're still closed, and I've never liked those anyway), not in my backyard (lol) or fire escape (hmm...), but mostly just on random park benches. The street I live on is a big wide parkway that connects Prospect Park all the way down to Coney Island, and is lined with an ungodly number of park benches. Just one after another for about 5 miles. When I first moved here, it was November, so the benches were generally empty, and I almost had to laugh at the sight of them. Like, who's idea was it to invest how many thousands of dollars into what was probably literally 1000 park benches? But when winter ended and the weather improved, I'll be damned if there weren't people all over those benches. Old folks that can't walk too far from home, delivery guys taking a break, teenagers doing teenager things, entire multi-generation families just hanging out on the benches. And now while you can't sit and eat in a restaurant, it's become a minor pleasure to get some food to go from some place near the parkway, take it to a bench, and enjoy a half hour of eating in peace!

That's mostly what I wanted to express in this food post. Which is funny because the bench I ate my Hanoi noodle salad at wasn't even a parkway bench, it was a bench actually up at Prospect Park. But Hanoi is located on kind of the south edge of Park Slope, not just a couple blocks from the park, and I wanted some Vietnamese and I wanted to sit on a bench, so it all came together. I can't imagine you care that much about how the food was. But it was good. A little too sweet as I got to the end of it, but I'd go back.

06.13.2020 - by Steve
SansimianBrooklyn
Jerk chicken

About a mile east of me is Flatbush Avenue, one of the main avenues that spans the entire length of Brooklyn. The point east of here is basically the halfway point of Flatbush, and from this point until about 3/4 point south of here, you will find all the Caribbean food you could ever dream of. Jamaican, Trinidadian, Haitian, Guyanese, Bahamian, Grenadan. All of it.

Sansimian is one of them. Jamaican. They have jerk chicken and oxtail and rice and peas and cabbage and curry and roti and saltfish and everything else. All of it.

Anyway it's real good and like 10 bucks for a big pile of explosively flavored chicken and rice and cabbage. Then you can bike down to Marine Park to sit on a bench and eat it and then go take a nature walk in a salt marsh and get destroyed by mosquitoes except those mosquitoes will combust upon biting you because of the jerk rub and oxtail gravy that's flowing through your system.

06.07.2020 - by Steve
Tung TungBrooklyn
Char siu on rice

There's a lot of roast pork and roast duck on rice in this town. You can get it anywhere you see a duck hanging in the window. It's almost always 5 dollars, and it's almost always good. It's sometimes great. This pork from Tung Tung, way down in Bensonhurst, was great. Some of the best I've had. I picked it up to take home, snuck one bite on the sidewalk, and ended up eating every bite of it just standing by a fire hydrant trying not to get grease on my mask.

05.20.2020 - by Steve
Randazzo PizzaBrooklyn
Chorizo jalapeno pizza

It's possible you've read my precedent on this website that all New York pizza is equally good. More or less, exceptions to the rule, all that. As such, I'm not going around posting about all the pizza I eat on here, just trust me that it's generally good.

Randazzo is one of those good places, a regular ol slice joint within walking distance of my place. But the other day they had a new slice on offer: jalapeno, onion, and chorizo. I wasn't necessarily in the mood for this combination, but it looked fresh out of the oven and I was curious. My friends, am I ever glad I did, because this slice was good enough to break my rule and post about a slice of pizza. It's extremely probable that chorizo and jalapeno and onion slices can be found at random slice joints all over town, but on this one afternoon, for one sweet moment, during the global confusion of a mass viral pandemic, Randazzo PIzza was the best pizza place in town.

05.13.2020 - by Steve
SungaiBrooklyn
Nasi lemak, roti canai, rendang

I don't eat Malaysian food very often, but whenever I do I usually end up deciding it's my favorite of all the foods.

05.09.2020 - by Steve
Tarim Uyghur CuisineQueens
Lamb kabob, noodles

Queens is the kind of place where you can get Uyghur food in a mall food court and that's just totally normal. And that Uyghur food involves a lamb kabob served to you on a sword.

04.28.2020 - by Steve
New York Times CookingManhattan
Coq au vin

This isn't a recipe blog, but these are difficult times. So here, go make this recipe and prepare yourself to thank me, because it will be the best damn meal you'll make yourself all year.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018529-coq-au-vin