05.29.2019
The Shins
Oh Inverted World

Imagine a world where the Shins released Oh Inverted World and then broke up or disappeared or perished in a plane crash or imploded into a black hole or whatever else would lead them to not release any music anymore. Also maybe Zach Braff also found that same fate in that same black hole. Oh Inverted World would be legendary today. Sure, it's always been admired and lauded to an extent, but I think that the subsequent years of consistently okay-to-good Shins releases have obscured it.

Listen to this album with fresh ears. It's phenomenal. Everything about it is perfect, from the unique melodies (I love when a songwriter is able to find paths through chords that are fully their own, like musical fingerprints, which James Mercer does—or did—better than nearly anyone else in indie rock at the time), to beautifully expressionistic lyrics, 90% of which I have no idea what they even are to this day, simple instrumentation just barely twisted into a lo-fi psychedelic audio palette, flawless sequencing, upbeat jams, melancholy ballads, and a very pretty (albeit very early 00s) cover. It's all so simple, yet composed and performed so beautifully that it becomes its own (inverted?) world.

I wrote something like this in my post on the last Shins album, but to sum up: the Shins never went Full Weezer. They haven't embarrassed themselves, they haven't released any duds or genre experiments or collaborations with Billy Ray Cyrus. But there's been a slow dulling of the edges, that started all the way back with their follow up to this one. Things got shinier, the simplicity disappeared into studio perfection, and when that became too boring and they tried to move back into scarier territory, they'd seemingly gotten too good to accidentally create a work of transcendence like Oh Inverted World.

This has never been my favorite album, or even on my all time top 10 (if I was to make such a list). I have no particular emotional bonds with it, despite listening to it a lot in college, but it's not a specific nostalgia trip for me. But when I listen to it now, it's like a hot knife into my ribs. It's so pure and good. I've never broken down crying listening to it, but I wouldn't be surprised if that happens at least once by the time I'm 70.

03.12.2017
The Shins
Heartworms

I don't know what to do with this new Shins album, and I don't know what to do with the Shins. I keep waiting for them to release something that even approaches Oh Inverted World, and I just keep waiting, and then I realize I've been waiting for 16 years. It's not going to happen. And yet they've managed not to go full-Weezer (aka full-Simpsons) and release a bunch of embarrassing garbage. Everything they've done has had an air of quality. But I just do... not... care... anymore. But I'll go out and buy their next one anyway and go through this all again.

03.30.2012
The Shins
Port of Morrow

I don't know how much I have to say about this new Shins record. Well, actually, I do know how much I have to say about it, which is: a lot. But It's all pointless rambling nonsense that has nothing to do with the record, and everything to do with everything else surrounding it, and the Shins, and the career arc of the Shins, and Zac Braff and domestic abuse and taco trucks and Dangermouse and who knows what else. I mean, just go back in time to when Oh Inverted World came out and nobody really gave a shit, short of an 8.0 Pitchfork review, which is very much worth going back to read in these tumultuous times of latter-day Shins. Back then they were just a poppy, sort of low-fi indie band, with a singer compared to Jeremy Enigk and a unique sense of melody and lots of tremolo. There were half-assed comparisons to The Kinks and The Beach Boys that proved as off-base as the Neutral Milk Hotel references that followed The Decemberists in their early days, but ultimately it sounded like, and only like, The Shins. It was humble, but it was honest and sort of perfect, really. But now, instead of sounding like and only like The Shins, or even the Kinks or the Beach Boys, they sound like Nothing. Or even worse, Everything. It's all bombast and ephemera, and not a single song that is essential to the Shins canon. Even Wincing The Night Away had one or two. Here, we get "For A Fool," which gets close I guess? And the last song is pretty nice. But you could pull this whole album out of their discography, and I wouldn't miss it. Same goes for Wincing. The confusing part is that it's not bad! Really. Nothing here is poor in any sense. None of it is embarrassing, or totally off mark, or even skippable. And it has the bonus qualification of being back-loaded, the back half being quite a bit superior to the front half, which is pretty rare. It's a nice album, and I have no use for it. But really, go get out your copy of Oh Inverted World and give it a whirl. Don't they sound like the kind of band that disappears after one release and gets everyone wishing, years later, that they hadn't?


(1)
09.05.2010
The Shins
Oh Inverted World

With enough time for hindsight and comparisons having elapsed, I'm ready to declare that Oh Inverted World is the best thing the Shins have released. And it's pretty safe to say they aren't going to top it. Also, Zach Braff.

05.31.2019 - by Steve
Tacos El BroncoBrooklyn
Tacos

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
PelicanaBrooklyn
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
MomofukuManhattan
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.

04.29.2019 - by Steve
Tony Luke's Brooklyn
Philly cheesesteak

My quest for the best cheesesteak—both in New York and in America at large—was made somewhat easier recently when Tony Luke's, a seemingly beloved Philadelphia chain, opened their first out-of-Philly location in downtown Brooklyn. It was essentially happenstance that led me there, on only the 2nd day of their opening, even. So it was a little crowded. But I wanted a cheesesteak that day anyway (thus the happenstance), so I persevered, stood in line, and holed up at the standing bar in a corner to eat it. I will say this: Tony Luke's makes a very good cheesesteak. Probably the best I've had in New York so far, though the one from Shorty's was damn close. Easily better than the one I had at Geno's (or was it Pat's?) in Philadelphia, which isn't exactly the gold standard, but maybe more of a baseline for all cheesesteak judging. And the greasy Philly ambiance of the place is just weird enough—homemade ads for hilariously bad looking B-movies which Tony Luke Jr. himself seemingly produced and starred in adorn the walls, as well as pictures from his notable work as an extra in fucking Invincible starring Mark Walberg of fucking course—and the theme to Rocky plays on a loop from a TV up in the corner. So, come to think of it, you better go eat at Tony Luke's as soon as you can before all of the staff quits en masse.