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).

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Yankee Clipper DeliQueens
Italian sandwich, rigatoni

This is the last in the surprisingly long collection of entries about my recent trip to New York! Because of the way I built this site and arranged these posts (and admittedly my own laziness, because I could easily swap them around), you need to scroll all the way down (keep scrolling!) to the first NYC entry about 15 posts down if you care to read them in order. Which you shouldn't.

Here's a weird one! So finally, after a day of flight delays and a cancellation, I'm about to go home. When my ride drops me off at La Guardia's Terminal 1, I'm immediately confused about where I am. See, Terminal 1 is apparently one of the oldest airport terminals still functioning in this country. It's basically one relatively small building, a beautifully designed and restored art-deco era hub, filled with marble floors and original 1930s aviation-inspired murals on the walls. But it still feels odd. Airports aren't like this anymore. It was quiet. And empty. And tiny. And there was only 1 place to eat, the depressingly-generic-looking Yankee Clipper Deli.

I had no idea this is what I was getting into, or else I would've grabbed lunch before leaving. But I had no choice. And then something funny happened: I actually walked in to the Yankee Clipper and looked at their food selection. It was legit! I mean, not like it was some amazing chef-focused restaurant or something, but this place was like a real NY neighborhood deli. They had Boars Head meats, a full made-to-order grill, and trays of shockingly-homemade-looking roasted chicken, rigatoni, roast veggies, and other Italian-American fare. I went with an Italian hoagie and a side of rigatoni. They made it fresh right there, quality meat, fresh-sliced, good produce, good roasted peppers, gave me a can of coke, and I checked out without having to wait in any line. And you know what? It was a damn good sandwich! And damn good rigatoni! And as I sat eating, the place filled up with more and more airport employees, who clearly knew about this place as some sort of La Guardia secret.

In the end, it was actually one of the most satisfying meals I had in NYC. Not the best, not by a long shot. But it was so nice and refreshing and easy, especially for an airport terminal, and especially since my expectations were so low. Then I bussed my tray, walked about 50 feet to the security line, which was nonexistent since there are only a small handful of flights that fly out of this weird little terminal, grabbed my flight and went home.

And now, back to your regular Minneapolis food nitpicking!

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Sweet ChickBrooklyn
Chicken and waffles

The great Williamsburg bang-bang, part 2: Sweet Chick! So, I walked past this place a handful of times throughout the night, simultaneously annoyed ("Ugh, of course, a hipster chicken and waffles joint on Bedford Avenue in fucking Williamsburg"), and intrigued ("Ugh, chicken and waffles sound really good"). But of course, since it's a hipster chicken and waffles joint on Beford Avenue in fucking Williamsburg, it was packed to the gills every time I checked back, even at 10:30 at night.

But eventually, I saw a spot at the bar open up, and my inner intrigued voice beat out my inner annoyed voice. After all, this was my real last night in New York, I may as well give in and pay through the nose for some Williamsburg fried hipster. I squeezed in at the bar (surrounded of course by local bartenders and other staff members who apparently just hang out at this place at all hours of the night even on their off nights), and ordered the regular fried chicken with the dried cherry waffles. Okay. Look. It was really good. Like perfectly good. Like, I've had chicken and waffles plenty of times, and it's always sort of good enough, but never quite reaches that magic pinnacle of what you assume chicken and waffles should hit. Well these hit it. Thoroughly satisfying.

I learned later, in a beautiful cosmic coincidence that did tie a nice bow around my trip, that Sweet Chick is owned by the same husband-and-wife duo that owns Pearl's, the first place I ate on this NYC adventure, and also one of the best. Whatever my misgivings about modern day restauranteurship may be, these two certainly know how to make some incredible food.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Crif DogsBrooklyn
Hot dogs

So what happened is: My flight got cancelled and rescheduled for the next evening, so I got an extra night in the city! Lucky me! Lucky me? Well, I guess the place I was staying was free, so I can't complain. So to make the most of it, I decided to do a classic Louie-style bang bang!

Dinner 1: Hot dogs. Boring, yeah. But it sounded good. I hit up this little place in Williamsburg called Crif Dogs. They deep fry them there, which I hear is sort of a New Jersey thing. Which is funny, because the hot dog I had in New Jersey wasn't deep fried. Anyhow, I don't know, they were good! The chili dog was particularly good in that chili dog sort of way. Better than the NJ chili dog even. Otherwise, not a whole lot to report. On to the 2nd part of the bang bang!

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Doughnut PlantManhattan
Blueberry doughnut

I'm still not a fan of the current cool-fancy doughnut craze, and the Doughnut Plant did nothing to change my mind. Oily and heavy and too expensive. Still waiting for that magical 4 dollar doughnut that's actually worth the 4 dollars.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Frankie's SpuntinoBrooklyn
Meatballs, lima bean pasta

For my last night in New York (spoiler: it wasn't actually my last night!), I wanted to do an at least half-fancy, "nice" dinner, rather than the garbage that I'd been eating all week. But I also really wanted some meatballs—some real authentic New York a-spicy-meat-a-ball-za. A quick search of "best meatballs in New York" led me to this place Frankie's Spuntino, which was conveniently also a half-fancy "nice" spot in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Perfect! I even rode a bike to get there!

Frankie's is a nice little 'neighborhood' place. I mean, it's newish and pricey and definitely not a hole in the wall, but it still has that no-bullshit feeling that I like in my restaurants. I ordered a small plate of the meatballs, which are beef and veal and stuffed with pine nuts and raisins, and are seemingly what this place is known for, as well as a lima bean pasta dish, because I didn't want to be the dummy just eating three meatballs by himself at the bar. The meatballs themselves were quite good. Really. I have zero complaints. Although I question whether they were truly 'Best Meatballs In New York' good. The pasta, however, was a wet sloppy mess, that sort of made me sad. I don't know what I was expecting, but it just seemed like a bad combination of flavors and textures, as if they were going for 'simple homestyle Italian,' but didn't really put enough effort into making sure it all came together correctly. It was a bummer.