Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu has been in a state of diminishing returns for damn near 8 years now. Women as Lovers was their last great album in my opinion, and since then it feels like they had that point that bands hit where they're just too good at doing the thing they do. The surprise disappears, the wonder disappears, they rely too much on what works. At first I was excited about Forget being a fresh exciting return to form, but the more I listen to it, it's more like, "Yep, sounds like Xiu Xiu." Which is a bummer, but also, I don't know. They've been around for a long time now. They've released some amazing music. And in between these official albums, they're definitely doing some interesting, cool projects. So, basically, I do like this one better than Always and Dear God I Hate Myself and whatever that other one was called. But still, certainly seems like they peaked.

Xiu Xiu
Angel Guts: Red Classroom

Xiu Xiu is (or has been for a while now) in career mode. They're at the point where you can't really judge any of their new albums to the standards of other music, but only purely as Xiu Xiu albums. Their last two made me a little bummed, to be honest, because their edge (their rusty, blood crusted edge) seemed to be dulling. Then they turn around and put out a freaky, borderline unlistenable album of spartanly orchestrated Nina Simone covers, which features Jamie Stewart singing in some new, throaty one-octave-too-low voice. It was a "what the fuck?" experiment, but it was enough to get me thinking they were over whatever made their last two so dull. And using that as a barometer, I have to say Angel Guts is a success. It doesn't have as the same memorable, much less transcendent, pop moments of their best work, but it's interesting, from front to back. Lyrically, it might be one of their strongest. And it's got a song called "Black Dick," so you know they're back on track.

Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu has become a well-oiled machine. Which is a shame, because I think they were better when they were a rusty, creaky, spark-spewing deathtrap. Between Dear God, I Hate Myself and now Always, they've (he's) somehow managed to take everything I thought was great about Xiu Xiu, and maximize it to the point that I'm beginning to feel I don't want it anymore. "Ice cream for breakfast!" we all wanted as children, and there's a reason we didn't get it. Old Xiu Xiu albums were a slog to get through. Noise, aggression, non-sequitors, shocking lyrical admissions. Those things were downright unpleasant, and then suddenly you'd get treated with a perfectly constructed, catchy, beautiful synth-pop masterpiece. And you appreciated it more for having lived through the other 9 tracks. But now, as much as I hate to say it, 9 out of 10 tracks are perfectly constructed, catchy, beautiful synth-pop. Not masterpieces, necessarily, but they're good anyway. And it somehow lessens the Xiu Xiu experience. So somehow when you hear the dude sing "When I look between my thighs all I see is death," on a song called "I Love Abortion," you're not even shocked by it anymore. No surprises I guess.

Xiu Xiu
Dear God, I Hate Myself

Pretty much what I feared. They're back to being a two-man band, and their sound has reverted back to the infuriatingly inconsequential Le Foret days. A couple catchy tunes, but nothing as memorable as a "I Luv The Valley OH!" or "I Do What I Want, When I Want." And the only thing shocking on the entire record is a straight-forward cover of "Cumberland Gap," a traditional folk/bluegrass song. Also probably the most interesting thing here, too. Shame.

Xiu Xiu
Women As Lovers

The first track off of Xiu Xiu's Women As Lovers album, which came out way back in January of 2008, is a little tune called "I Do What I Want, When I Want." And for the last 12 months, I've been completely in love with it, though I haven't really talked to anyone about it, or made anyone listen to it. The reason for this is because I think most of you would hate it, and then, in turn, hate me after I recommend it. But this song absolutely hooked me, all year. Song of the year, by far, hands down, no contest. The melodies are just everywhere, and they flow and move and cascade and stop and start, and sounds come out of nowhere, sounds that seem to have no business suddenly appearing. And while the whole song is very pop-structured (and catchy as hell), no 10 seconds of it sounds like any other 10 seconds of it. The bass drum will play a bunch of notes in a row and then stop. A descending distorted keyboard line just keeps descending until it turns into mush. A zombie saxophone. 4 bars (and no more) of female vocals. And those stupid little "do do do do do do" vocal parts keep popping in to anchor the whole song, just to prove that Xiu Xiu is better than you. Anyway, the point it is, I can't contain my enjoyment of this song. And the best part is that Women As Lovers is, as a whole, the first entirely listenable album Xiu Xiu has put out since Knife Play (and how listenable that album is can certainly be argued).

06.11.2017 - by Steve
JL BeersNortheast Minneapolis

I'd been mostly avoiding this JL Beers place that popped up in Northeast a couple years ago, because it had the desperate stink of a chain trying hard not to look like a chain in order to appease all of us city folk. Which is exactly what it is. But when I found myself in need of a very particular kind of thin, oniony, 'burger stand' style bar burger one night, I discovered that is the exact kind of burger JL Beers makes. Which is refreshing for a chain like that. Furthermore, with a little snooping I learned that JL originated in Fargo, and really only has a few locations in the North and South Dakota, and now a few in the Twin Cities. So as far as chains go, it's almost downright charming. Okay, so I'll go to JL Beers. The place is set up just like some "real" dive bar. Long, open grill and fryers behind the bar, not a ton of tables. The biggest red flag is on those grills, where they have automatically timed presses (I guess you'd call them?) that flatten and speed-cook the burgers on the grill. Which feels a little sad, but maybe fun that you could say your burger is cooked by robot? Or maybe every restaurant has these, but just never out in the open? Anyway, I got a cheeseburger, and it looked perfect, like something from Matt's or the Cedar Grill or any 'real' place that JL Beers is trying to mimic. Except: the burger tasted gross. It reminded me of the burgers I'd get as a kid from a Chinese restaurant when I was too picky to eat Chinese food. This very specific, oily, tinny essence that just tastes wrong. And the fries had a similar wrongness. So. They almost did it, JL Beers. Almost.

04.21.2017 - by Steve
ByteDowntown Minneapolis
Black vinegar pork bowl

Byte (get it!?) is a new counter-service eatery and bar downtown who's tagline promises some sort of nerdy, techy something or other. "Eat Drink Geek," it says. Well I did notice the table numbers had drawings of superheroes on them (we got Green Lantern), but beyond that I'm stumped. More importantly though, is the food, a which reminds me quite a bit of World Street Kitchen in its worldly-yet-ethnically-agnostic mix of bowls and burritos and salads. I got the black vinegar pork bowl, which I think was Korean, or at least Korean-inspired, but hey it was really good! It had some nice pickled veggies in there, and some cashews on there, and bok choy (so maybe it was Chinese?) and the rice was good, and it was actually more than I could finish in a single sitting! Thanks Byte! So hey, I like this place! It's bright and chill and tasty, and I guess there's a bar in back, so maybe there's some arcade games back there or something? Or maybe some tech startup offices? We'll never know.

04.09.2017 - by Steve
PinKuNortheast Minneapolis
Fried shrimp, tuna on crispy rice, gyoza

Everything I ate at PinKu tasted great. The pork filling in the gyoza was a little mushy, and the radish 'noodles' under the crispy shrimp was a little bit plain, but otherwise it was all mostly flawless. And hey, I even like that the design of the space isn't too annoying, and that it's a modestly low-key, order-at-the-counter spot that doesn't seem to be trying too hard. Good! But my problem with PinKu is this: I spent $24 there, ate every scrap on my plate, and was still hungry enough when I left that I damn-near went into Savoy next door to get a meatball sub. It's a gripe as old as time. "Oh I paid a fortune at this fancy rest-o-raunt for just a tiny plate of food and a piece of lettuce!" It's annoying. I get that good food takes time and talent and costs money. But this was a little overboard, especially for a place that claims to offer "Japanese Street Food," which to me means it should be hearty and a little bit crass, but filling and satisfying. Granted, I've never been to Japan, but I don't think anything at this place can be qualified as "street food"—it's more or less a sushi joint. (I'd rant further about the new trend of restaurants claiming to serve "street food," but you can scroll down to my Spitz post to get your fill of that). Basically, look... I like PinKu. I enjoyed their food. I liked being in their space. But I just wish it was either $5–6 cheaper, or they would've given me two more pieces of shrimp and one more tuna crispy rice cube. And maybe some miso soup. Or a coupon for a free meatball sub next door.

04.03.2017 - by Steve
Gardens of SalonicaNortheast Minneapolis

Gardens of Salonica was always one of those places that just existed in my mind. I'd heard people mention it, and it seemed to be somewhat timeless and simply around, but until I lived over here, it never occurred to me that it was a place that was real and that you could actually eat at. So I did! And I'm pretty sure it was good! I only qualify that because it isn't food that necessarily yells at you to let you know it's good. I got a plate of grilled lamb chops on linguine, with some garlic spread and balsamic, as well as a cup of leek and lemon soup. It all tasted good, and (and this will sound cliche, but it's true so I've gotta say it) felt honest. Gardens of Salonica doesn't seem to be trying to impress you. They just make quality Greek food. Even the interior had some nice pieces of earthy sculpture art hanging here and there, but it just felt natural and unfussy, and the signs outside are hand-painted in a way that says "We didn't hand paint these signs because it was cool and artisanal, we just thought it was nicer to hand paint the signs." So, yeah, I'm totally on board with Gardens of Salonica. Also I just realized (this very moment) they gave me lambchops even though I ordered the lamb riblet special. Crap.

03.22.2017 - by Steve
Gino'sNortheast Minneapolis
Chicken parm

Gino's is a minor miracle. It's a small and unfussy new restaurant and bar in Northeast that specializes in chicken parm and meatballs and lasagna and basic dumb hearty red sauce, refreshingly free of irony, hype, and affectation—there's no mention of "farm to table" ingredients, there's no menu of house-distilled sambuca, there's no menu item that's "a new take" on anything—it's just some delicious damn Italian food in a relaxed bar environment at a decent price. I'm so happy this place exists.

So what I ate (if you're curious) is I got the chicken parm, with a side of spaghetti and a side of broccolini. The parm itself was damn near perfect, fried and crispy and cheesy and plentiful. The spaghetti was good, but served a little oddly; it was in a little cup over to the side of the chicken, like how you'd get a side of beans at a barbecue place. Weird, but hey, whatever. But for as good as the parm and the red sauce were, the broccolini, to my surprise, was actually the highlight of the meal. It was pan fried in some garlic butter, and then finished with a small handful of pickled red pepper, basically juiced right into the pan. It was the mostly intensely flavorful broccoli I've ever had. Super delicious.

The problem, however, is twofold, and contradictory. 1.) I was only person there. Well, after two others left at least. But the point is, Gino's is new and great, but it's not doing business. On one hand, this is great, because it's usually damn-near impossible to get a table at a new restaurant in this town without going through annoying hoops and fighting with a hundred other cool people trying to go there before all their friends. On the other, of course, is that an empty restaurant usually turns into a closed restaurant very quickly. So, hey, people, go to Gino's! 2.) It's apparently owned by the people behind The Lyndale Tap. Which makes me think it's very much setting itself up to open more locations around the suburbs eventually. Which isn't inherently bad, but admit it, it's a little annoying. So for now, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of Gino's Parm before it turns in to the next Buca di Beppo. Join me!