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.

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

04.17.2020 - by Steve
Mia's Brooklyn
Cinnamon roll

Boy oh boy does it seem silly to write food reviews during this difficult time.

So I'm gonna write about how I went to Mia's in Carrol Gardens during the first weekend or two of this whole thing, and got myself a cinnamon roll.

You know what's weird? Cinnamon rolls aren't really a thing here. You can find them around of course, but there's no guarantee that any bakery you enter will have them. Even when you do find one, it's often the crustier deep-fried type like you'd get at Dunkin Donuts or something, rather than the big, gooey, bready, baked kind that us MIdwestern fatsos grew up on. I can get a bagel on any block in this city, a black and white cookie, a pile of cannoli—but I find myself longing for a quality cinnamon roll here more often than I ever would've imagined.

Anyway Mia's is pretty good. A little on the patisserie side of things rather than the Cinnabon side of things, but that's Carrol Gardens for you. I'd try to make a mission of finding this city's Best Cinnamon Roll, but you know—this difficult time.

03.28.2020 - by Steve
Katz's DeliManhattan
Pastrami on rye

Way, way, way back in the early days of this music and food blog, I posted about Katz's. I recommend that you don't go back and read it, but the gist was: Katz's is pretty good, but wowie is it expensive, and I bet you can do better!

Well now I'm older (much), wiser (a little), and richer (just barely), plus I actually live in this goddamn city, so I feel much more comfortable saying this: 10 years ago Steve was wrong as shit. Katz's is everything that is right and good in this world, and I don't give a damn that their sandwiches cost $20. Because guess what, there are other Jewish delis around town, and they're all just as expensive, and not nearly as good. Plus it's open all night!

Come to New York. Eat at Katz's. Get the pastrami. Skip the corned beef. Probably wait until like 10pm so you can actually get a table. Hopefully they make it through this junk.

03.17.2020 - by Steve
Los Tacos No. 1Manhattan
Tacos

I'm drastically behind on food posts. Sorry everybody. But what better time than a devastating worldwide pandemic (is that redundant?) to sit inside and tell you about tacos?

This is Los Tacos No. 1, and I had a whole other specific introduction I wanted to give here, but a national law just passed that every sentence we speak and write must contain one reference to viruses, social distancing, quarantines, or at least use the phrase, "Crazy, huh?". But the short take on Los Tacos is that it started as a kiosk in Chelsea Market, became massively popular, then opened new locations in some of the shittiest spots in Manhattan. There's one in Times Square, one in the Financial District, and a new one opening (if humanity survives long enough) at Grand Central Station. Even just reading that list is annoying to me, and makes me want nothing to do with Los Tacos No. 1.

Except honestly these are some of the best tacos in the city. Like, practically perfect tacos. And even though the taco "authenticity" debate mostly makes me want to crawl in a hole (or lick a subway pole), these little guys at least seem as authentic as you could ask for. The place even has a fun (if contrived) throwback quality to it—minimalist hand-painted signage, a bare bones menu, employees wearing little short order chef hats and white aprons—it's all set up to feel like you're in an urban Mexico City taqueria that hasn't been updated since the 60s. It's a little corny, but it actually works. But more importantly, the tortillas are fresh, the fillings are outstanding, the service is extremely efficient, and you could find a much worse place to be quarantined inside of.