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).

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Sidewalk KitchenU of M
Roast duck, bbq pork, ma-po

The (#problematic?) theory of Asian restaurants is that the more Asian people you see eating in one, the better the food probably is. Far be it from me to argue with science, but I will say this: Sidewalk Kitchen (why not Sidewok Kitchen??? Missed opportunity), located in that one corner of Stadium Village that's always had 2 or 3 random Chinese places that seem to cater to a large percentage of actual Chinese people, was full of Chinese students the night we went. It was a real 'sore thumb' situation for the two of us at table five. The menu seemed promising, although I worry a bit when a restaurant boats so many Szechuan and Hunan and Korean options. The food was just okay. There was some confusion about my order initially; I ordered the rice plate with duck and pork, and the waiter claimed that the kitchen said they couldn't serve that item, but then after some discussion with a manager and someone else in the kitchen, they decided they could, and when the plate came out, the pork was cold. Like, cold, not even room temperature. And crazy boney. As was the duck, although at least that was hot. Meanwhile, the ma-po (Szechuan dish with tofu and ground pork) had a very particular sadness to it, more of a watery orange color than the expected deep red, and full of freezer-aisle diced carrot cubes and peas. It tasted weird. It was all weird. The whole thing was weird. I still have hope for this place, because most of the stuff that everyone else in the restaurant was eating looked better than ours, so I think maybe we just got the wrong things. Maybe next time. Well, nah, maybe not.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Spoon and StableDowntown Minneaoplis
Duck breast laab

My previous trip to the hottest newest bestest restaurant in the North Loop, Spoon and Stable, happened a year and a half ago on my birthday, when I sat by myself at the bar and ate as much food as I could afford. I went in skeptical but left impressed. But I went no further than 10 feet from the front door to the bar. This time was entirely different; a Sunday morning brunch with some out of town visitors, I saw that the restaurant is a good bit smaller than I first thought it was, and actually has some lovely natural light from the ceiling, and all in all isn't quite as annoying as I might have thought it was. I mean, it's still all white-tile-and-natural-wood-edison-bulb-in-industrial-lighting, leather-apron'd-barkeeps and denim-uniformed-server Pinterest-chic, but it's not that bad. What was bad, regretfully, was my food. The brunch menu was fairly diverse as these things go, and I ordered a duck breast laab salad with crispy wild rice and a duck egg. It just didn't work. The duck was tough, the wild rice was soft, and the whole thing was way, way too salty. Whatever flavors were in there were just overwhelmed by soy sauce or fish sauce or whatever they had in there. Meanwhile, nothing else I tasted between everyone else at my table was much better. And to be honest I don't really remember what those dishes were. The only great takeaway from the entire meal was the small plate of hash browns that they brought the table (every brunch spot should do this!), which were satisfyingly crispy, and were infused with a sort of garlicky oniony oil. They were great. Everything else was a big bummer. So while I still think I stand by Spoon and Stable based on my great birthday dinner, I'll go ahead and recommend you skip brunch.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Hai HaiNortheast Minneapolis
Balinese chicken, Vietnamese crepes

If anyone has told you that omg Hai Hai is amazing, and you couldn't help but feel that they were conflating their excitement over another new and novel restaurant with actual quality... strike that from your mind. Because omg Hai Hai is amazing.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Jakeeno'sSouth Minneapolis

Jakeeno's might be the most perfect dumb family pizza joint (it's a genre, look it up!) in Minneapolis. There's nothing at all remarkable about it, but it's fully satisfying in every way.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Thai CafeSt. Paul
Sour pork ribs

The Thai Cafe might be the most indistinguishablest of all the indistinguishable Thai and Vietnamese places clustered on University Avenue in St. Paul. That name, Thai Cafe. I mean, it's not wrong! Or is it? It's really just a restaurant, not exactly a care. But what is a cafe? Where does that line get drawn? Anyway, it really doesn't matter that they have a boring name, because like Clark Kent spinning around in a broom closet and becoming Batman (did I do that right?), the Thai Cafe has a superpower called Sour Pork Ribs. These things, man. The City Pages Best-Of write up specifically mentioned the sour pork ribs, the Eater write up mentioned the pork ribs, and sure enough every other table in the restaurant had ordered the sour pork ribs. Garlicky, sour, pleasantly chewy, sour, spicy, sour, very red. So red. I don't want to go all the way in saying that the Thai Cafe is the best Thai Place in town; the other dishes were above average, but these dang ribs are good enough that it's automatically in the conversation.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Porchetteria South Minneapolis

I already did a post on the Porchetteria a couple years ago, but I just had it again and think it deserves an update. Because while —if my memory serves me—my last review was good but a little bit unexcited, this time around it was holy shit good. Some of the best porchetta I've ever had. It changed my whole outlook on this place, and now I just want to wait for all this stupid snow to melt so I can go back again.