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.

01.01.2020 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2019Brooklyn
A List

1. Olmstead (Brooklyn) - Dry rubbed scallops
2. Buttermilk Channel (Brooklyn) - Duck meatloaf
3. Mu (Queens) - Burger
4. Foxfire Mountain House (The Catskills) - Roast pork
5. Junior’s (Brooklyn) - Cheesecake
6. Alma (Minneapolis) - Turkey burger
7. Beefrria Landia (Queens) - Birria tacos
8. Buffalo’s Famous (Brooklyn) - Garbage plate
9. Prince Street Pizza (Manhattan) - Pepperoni pizza (Detroit style)
10. 5 Rabanitos (Chicago) - Pork mole
11. Joju (Queens) - Banh mi
12. Eastwind Snack Shop (Brooklyn) - Dumplings
13. Andrew’s Luncheonette (Brooklyn) - Cheeseburger
14. Roll n Roaster (Brooklyn) - Roast beef sandwich
15. Tony Luke’s (Brooklyn) - Philly cheesesteak
16. Hudson and Charles (Manhattan) - Roast beef sandwich
17. Captain James Crabhouse (Baltimore) - Steamed crabs
18. Shanghai 21 (Manhattan) - Spare ribs
19. Taïm (Manhattan) - Falafel
20. Momofuku Noodle Bar (Manhattan) - Sausage buns

12.14.2019 - by Steve
Eastwind Snack ShopBrooklyn

This is a little joy of a restaurant. A cozy luncheonette style nook off the main drag of a quiet neighborhood just a few steps from a hidden subway entrance that's only two stops away from us, which serves a confidently concise menu of dumplings and noodles, created as a back-to-basics project by a legit chef and lauded as some of the best dumplings in the city by a good number of magazines and websites—and given that Anthony Bourdain seal of approval—yet never at any point overwhelmed with crowds or wait times or hipster accoutrement that might otherwise tank such a perfect place. Since going there for the first time last week, we've already been back once more just a few days later for a quick pre-dinner bite. A year into living in this city and I think this is finally the first place we've finally decided is "ours".

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Diamond GrilleAkron
Tomahawk steak

We ate at a cool old steakhouse in Akron called the Diamond Grille. The steak was a little salty but otherwise fine. I mostly just wanted to post about it because look at that photo.

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Italian sandwich

My open ended (closed face) sandwich quest in this city finally brought me to a place I've had on my list for nearly all of it, hidden back in a weird corner of Red Hook, seemingly purposefully attempting to keep people away with its sheer inaccessibility yet still swarming with construction dudes on lunch break and weird old guys who've never left Red Hook but will still be there long after you die, it's Defonte's.

To be honest I went there so long ago now that I don't remember exactly the details of my sandwich. But I do know it was good—very good in fact. One of the better deli sandwiches I've had here. What I mostly do remember is that Defonte's is really truly the real deal. The sandwich was great, all their specials looked great, their hot deli items looked well above average, and they've got a whole menu of stuff that made me wish it wasn't located in a place that's physically exhausting to get to, no matter the method of travel.

(As an addendum, I'd like to mention that after I got my Defonte's sandwich to go, I took it to a nearby Fairway supermarket that Erin and I occasionally like to frequent, to eat in the seating area of their deli. The reason I mention this part is that the Red Hook Fairway's deli seating area is legitimately a hidden gem of Brooklyn tourism. The store is on the bottom floor of an old waterfront shipping warehouse [see: On The Waterfront], and when you go through the glass sliding doors of the deli, you'll suddenly be treated to one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty in the city. Sure it's still far away, but it's closer than the view from Battery Park in Manhattan, plus you actually get to see the front of her instead of just her butt. It's a really nice place to sit and eat lunch; totally silly that it's just part of a regular grocery store, but that's probably better than it being taken up by some restaurant or brewery.)

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Prince Street PizzaManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I biked through SoHo on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, which wasn't a great idea because SoHo on a Saturday afternoon is a shitshow of tourists who think they're too good to be part of the Times Square shitshow of tourists. Plus those brick paved streets. Yikes.

Anyway while I was weaving through the mobs, I noticed two establishments which had roped off lines of people down the sidewalk waiting to get in; one was Moncler, maker of extremely expensive extremely French goose down jackets, and the other was Prince Street Pizza. Maker of pizza.

I don't think I'm super plugged in to the pizza trends in this town, and I thought maybe I'd heard of Prince Street Pizza before, but I was surprised to see the sheer number of people lined up for a slice—not to mention the preparedness of the place to deal with such a line. Clearly they get this every weekend. But I had no idea why.

So a week or two later, I was in the area on a random weeknight and thought I'd go see what the big deal was. Best case, I figured, was I'd get a decent fresh slice comparable to John's—pretty fine New York pizza that becomes so inexplicably popular that its fresh pizza turnover rate allows quality becomes self reflexive—and at worst I'd still get an okay slice of pizza. But Prince Street threw me a curveball: Detroit style!

You know about Detroit style, right? Well I'm not gonna get into it here. Go ahead and google it. But I assume that Prince Street just recently made a switch to Detroit style (or opened anew), and probably got some press somewhere or another, and now they've got lines around the block. Thing about Detroit style pizza is, it's legit. I don't think it's a fad, I don't think it's a marketing ploy, it's not some make believe bullshit like, ugh, Sota-style (thanks Red's Savoy). It's real and it's beautiful and it's almost always delicious. And Prince Street's was more delicious. Seriously fantastic. Maybe the best slice I've had in the city so far? I think it might be.

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Shanghai 21Manhattan
Soup dumplings, spare ribs

There's a whole lot of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and I'm not about to try to tell you which are the good ones and bad ones. Big Wong's does a totally decent roast duck and rice for cheap, North Dumpling does totally decent dumplings for shockingly cheap, the Malaysian jerky shop is always a fun stop to make, and now I can confidently tell you that Shanghai 21 does very good soup dumplings and even better spare ribs. Not necessarily cheap cheap, but that's not really the selling point here.