Ode to Joy

If Wilco The Album and The Whole Love and Star Wars and Schmilco never happened, and Ode to Joy was the follow up to Sky Blue Sky, I'd probably be confused and disappointed by it. But it would at least make sense. But those other albums did of course happen, and they've all left me in varying states of frustration and ambivalence, be it from Album and Love's lack of new ideas and general dispassion, or Star Wars and Schmilco's stubborn dryness. But Ode to Joy finally feels right. None of its individual songs—"Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" perhaps excluded—are nearly to the level of their catalog leading up to this 'frustration and ambivalence' era, but the album as a whole is refreshingly engaging. It contains little mysteries which I don't even know are there until they've hooked me, and it keeps inviting me back, and I'm happy to oblige. But most refreshing of all is that like every great Wilco album (which, again, is basically all of them up until those other ones), this feels like its own world. It has its own palette and speaks its own language. Yeah it kinda borrows some sounds from Star Wars and Schmilco, but it actually does something with them. Even the album cover works.


First: I love that this album is called Wilco Schmilco. If you know me and you know anything, you know why.

Second: I'm sad that this album is kind of a bore. It's interesting, and kind of like Star Wars it has a very consistent palette, and feels unfussy and natural. But the songs just aren't working for me, and something about Tweedy's delivery is very sleepy; he never raises his voice higher than 'man trying to be quiet while recording bedroom demo as not to wake his neighbors.' It becomes a little grating after a while. It's a choice, sure, but he does it on every song and it doesn't hold up.

Third, and most importantly: Wilco has clearly and obviously entered a new phase of their recording career. Their albums are no longer events. They're no longer Statements. They're just collections of songs, some good, some not good, all basically less than their previous output. In fact, I believe the last truly great song they've recorded was "Wilco (the song)", which was the lead track on Wilco (the album), and simultaneously acted as the end of phase 1 and the beginning of phase 2. They just as easily could've ended their recording career by releasing the song as a single and saying "goodbye," and it would've been the perfect ending. Which in a way it did, because the rest of that album was mostly a snooze—albeit a competent one—as was The Whole Love and Star Wars and now Schmilco. Also interesting that they've now released almost as many albums in this new phase, four, as the five they released in their Important Classic Album phase. Or depending on your feelings about Sky Blue Sky those numbers are flipped (I of course believe Sky Blue Sky to be a masterpiece and disregard any arguments to the contrary, and in fact my defense of Sky Blue Sky is written into the very mission of this blog). In fact, I'd actually take my 2-phase theory farther and say that this second phase is now into 2b, starting with Star Wars, the point where Wilco themselves have realized that they no longer share their younger selves' ambitions, and aren't even trying to record Important Statements, which they were perhaps attempting and failing on Wilco (the album) and The Whole Love. Now they're just hanging in a studio and recording tunes and not worrying too much about it, which is probably why these last two are certainly more enjoyable than the former two. Which is to say: Schmilco isn't bad at all. But it's absolutely not Summerteeth.

Fourth: You know, actually, the fact that it's called Wilco Schmilco is actually the most important thing here. That is amazing. I love this band.

Star Wars

Jeff Tweedy: Hey guys, I totally forgot we have to do the Pitchfork Festival next weekend! Here, I scrounged up some demos from Loose Fur and the record I made with my son so we can release a secret free album and get some buzz first. Can you guys help me record it tonight?

Nels Cline: Seriously? Ugh. I don't know. I have to go across town to record a jazz album in two hours. Can I just make a bunch of noise with my guitar and set the mics really close to the amp?

Jeff Tweedy: Sure, I guess, yeah.

Glenn Kotche: Can I offset his impenetrable guitar fuzz with tastefully humanistic percussion?

Jeff Tweedy: That's the spirit, Glenn!

John Stirratt & Pat Sansone (in unison): Can we—

Jeff Tweedy: Who are you?

And... scene!

Sky Blue Sky

Can't sleep. Dwelling on the fact that music critics continue to belittle Sky Blue Sky as being one of Wilco's 'lesser works.' No, no, no, no, no. I just read some review that half-bashed the new My Morning Jacket record (while still liking it), and comparing it unfavorably to Sky in this joking, sort of snotty manner. I mean, geez, if you're going to compare the new MMJ record to Wilco records, the obvious choice should be Wilco The Album. Sky is way more in line with It Still Moves, people. And Z is Summerteeth and At Dawn is Being There and they have no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Get it right, you nincompoops!

Wilco (the album)

This, more than Animal Collective, more than The Decemberists, and more than whoever else, was my most anticipated album of this year. Sky Blue Sky, in my mind, was their best album, and the couple times I saw them live made me a firm believer that Wilco is currently the Best Band In America (TM). Hands down. Not only was that last album great, but it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the band to take its sound (although, really, they've done that on every album they've released). But, as everyone could've guessed, I'm a little let down by it. It's not a bad album at all. It just doesn't have enough of any one thing going for it to make it a great album. The songs are okay--"Wilco (the song)" is already a classic--but the compositions are often slighted by unnecessarily fussy arrangements. Nels Cline, their new secret weapon, has some cool guitar parts, but they never really get off the ground, or completely explode before liftoff. Really, they're existing in an awkward middle ground between Untouchable Singles Band (Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and Experimental Jam Band (Sky Blue Sky, A Ghost Is Born), and not really excelling at either. But to be fair, I didn't like Sky Blue Sky after the first couple listens either, so we'll see where this goes.

10.29.2019 - by Steve
Kensington Kosher DeliGreat Neck
Pastrami on rye

This was an unexpected but welcome find, a legit New York style Jewish deli—and a dive at that—in the middle of small town Long Island. Well, not as much small town as profoundly wealthy suburb, but it was nonetheless quaint, delicious, and about half the price of those big city Jewish delis you've heard so much about.

10.29.2019 - by Steve

Good falafel, good toppings, a good pita, multiple locations. This is a short food post.

10.28.2019 - by Steve
Buttermilk ChannelBrooklyn
Duck meatloaf

Hey now we're on a roll! After months of eating things and saying "Hmm, nothing's really blown me away in this city yet," first came Olmstead's blueberry scallops, and now Buttermilk Channel's duck meatloaf. Nothing's going to top those scallops, but this meatloaf is easily the #2 best thing I've eaten this year. And like the scallops, it comes with a sweet fruity reduction—cherry, to be specific. Nothing else too crazy about it, although I'm not sure what percentage of it was actually duck (it can't be 100%, right? That's a lotta duck. I imagine there's some pork or something in there too). Otherwise just some roasted rutabaga and some arugula, but damn it was good. Everything else we had at Buttermilk Channel—their 'famous' fried chicken and some leek soup—was totally fine but not remarkable. But the meatloaf made it all worth it.

10.10.2019 - by Steve
French onion soup

Sardi's is one of those famous old Manhattan joints that you've probably seen in a movie and has probably been referenced on Seinfeld where the bartenders wear bowties and there are autographed celebrity caricatures all over the walls and you can go sit and pay way too much for a drink after seeing a Broadway show. I can't speak for the drinks, but their world famous French onion soup was totally decent, as were the meatballs. And you know what? It was nice! It was a nice chill pleasant evening in a weird old bar, which is actually a pretty rare thing in the middle of Times Square's nonsense.

10.05.2019 - by Steve

Some guy at the USA Today ranked the best ballpark food in America, and gave the #1 spot to the Momocho nachos at Jacobs Field. I'm in a perfect position to weigh in on this, since I've recently been to Cleveland for a baseball game, and ate those very nachos. But I'm not going to bother because the Twins are destroying me again and I don't like baseball anymore and what's the point of nachos if happiness is an illusion?

10.05.2019 - by Steve
Duffy'sStaten Island

I'm writing this communique to report to you that Duffy's Bar in Staten Island does not serve the best burger in New York.

Like, of course they don't, but reading the sensational reviews of this place online from Staten Islanders, I was ready to buy-in and be the weirdo who goes around telling people "um actually there's this place in Staten Island that low key makes the best burgers in this town!". But, no. It's a great little place though, a just-barely-nicer-than-a-dive local Irish bar with NYFD shit all over the walls (fucking of course) and rectangular shaped men with giant thumb heads and seeerious accents complaining about the Jets at the bar. And hey, the burger is good. But I was a fool to think I'd find the best burger in town by taking the ferry and biking 7 miles into the West St. Paul of New York City.

09.21.2019 - by Steve
Birria mulita taco

OMG I had a long, detailed and riotously entertaining post written here that you would've loved, but I accidentally lost it. So here's the short version:

For the last year I've been seeing these amazing tacos on Instagram. They're stuffed with shredded beef and cheese and grilled like a quesadilla, but then folded like a taco and totally doused with a spicy looking liquidy red pepper sauce. The final product is—forgive me for sounding like a hack copyrighter here—mouth watering. Every time I see one on Instagram, I want to eat one immediately. The problem is, without exception, every single one I've seen posted is from somewhere in Los Angeles.

A little research confirmed this. What we're dealing with is a birria mulita, and while they've existed in a few small areas of Mexico for a while, they've just recently taken the Los Angeles truck and taqueria scene by storm. But I'm in New York the Greatest City In The World!, I shouted to God, surely we must have these too!. So after a year of not being in LA to eat one of these motherfuckers, I google "birria mulita taco New York," and was greeted with a minor miracle. Just a few days earlier, the city's very first birria truck opened in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Just a week later, we found ourselves conveniently (and accidentally, I swear) in Jackson Heights. It was 4:55, and the truck opened at 5:00. We saw it pull in to its spot. We walked around the block to give them time to set up. We returned to find a line of 10 people ahead of us. My god, I'm clearly not the only one who was desperate for these things.

In a rare surprise, it was everything I'd hoped for. Rich, spicy, luscious, profound. Easily the best Mexican food I've had in this city so far.

Sometimes things are good.