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.

10.27.2017 - by Steve
Jambo KitchenU of M
Beef bisbaas rice bowl

There's this place that opened over near Cedar Riverside a few years ago called Afro Deli, which is sort of the first attempt at making a "Chipotle-for" style restaurant for east-African food. People like it. They've opened up another location in St. Paul, too!

Jambo Kitchen is not Afro Deli. There's a sign right in the front window that tells you as much. But you'd be forgiven if you got confused, because Jambo Kitchen is in the same space as the original Afro Deli, which has now moved to Stadium Villalge, serves essentially the same menu, in the same "Chipotle-for" style, and even has a uncomfortably similar rainbow-colored logo. It's weird.

The weirder thing, is that I don't feel like my entree tasted particularly African. Not that I'm an expert, obviously. It was good though! But my rice bowl, with steak and veggies and a "bisbaas" sauce, tasted what I would cynically describe as "vaguely ethnic." You could've told me it was Colombian or Cuban and I would've believed you. But still, it was delicious and fresh! My beef sambusa, meanwhile was more what I had in mind. Spicy and intensely flavored ground beef'n'stuff in a nice fried wrap, like a samosa. It was perfect. Really I could sit and eat three of those and call it a meal.

So yeah, Jambo is good. I'd go back. I should probably go to Afro Deli too.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Isles BunUptown Minneapolis
Cinnamon bun

It's very easy to forget that Isles Bun exists. And that's actually not that bad, because you really don't need to eat these things any more than once or twice a year. But just remember, when you really need that cinnamon roll, feeling some deep longing for the decadence of a Cinnabon without the requisite shame that accompanies it, swallow your pride and go to Uptown and slather your feelings in frosting from their little tub.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Northern Waters SmokehausDuluth
Smoked salmon banh mi

I wish Duluth was a better food town. Probably most people wish that; I mean, why not? But aside from the New Scenic*, and the Duluth Grill**, there doesn't seem to be any real momentum in transcending the half-assed tourist town cafes and Grandma's-owned food factories that the city currently calls it food scene. But there always seems to be a little bit of hope. Currently it's Northern Waters Smokehaus (sic), which despite its hashtag-basic name and Canal Park location, has lately been the universal recommendation of anyone even half in-the-know when asked what's good in Duluth these days. And even though most of these people will also recommend Burrito Union to you (blech), dag nabbit they're right about this one! Northern Waters is a small little deli in one of those weird Canal Park shopping/office complexes—which I think is more charming than annoying—which basically operates like a more urbane version of your standard north shore smokehouse. Smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked herring. All that. But they go a step farther and do their own pastrami and sausage and porchetta (of course), and offer a whole bunch of different sandwiches. The porchetta was a little bit tame and dry for my liking, but still tasty. The smoked salmon banh mi, meanwhile, but a goddamn taste explosion, and even though you could barely make out the salmon in it, it was still a damn good sandwich. Especially for Duluth. And for what it's worth, I ate some of the salmon on its own, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, we got some polish sausage to go, and cooked it up a couple days later, to phenomenal results. As you can tell, I like this place. It's just what Duluth needs, and I'm glad it exists. And based on the lines that afternoon, I'm imagining they're going to be twice as big next time I visit, and hopefully no less respectable.

* Which isn't even in Duluth.
** Which I've actually never eaten at, but I refuse to believe is really any better than your standard Highland Grill / Chatterbox style "hey look at this funky food!" cliche which would never fly in a bigger city in 2017.