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).

06.19.2018 - by Steve
MT NoodlesBrooklyn Park
Banh mi

This is the best banh mi I've ever eaten, and it's in Brooklyn Park. The suburbs are going to save us all.

06.19.2018 - by Steve
TavialSt. Paul
Tacos al pastor

Hey, guess what?? I moved to St. Paul! Yessir, down to the Irish Catholic boonies of ol' Pig's Eye, more or less the middle of nowhere, just off West 7th. There's not a whole lot of food around here. Mostly just a shocking number of shockingly similar Irish bars—or at least bars with shamrocks in their logos. And Mucci's. But we'll get to Mucci's later. The one bright spot so far, however, is Tavial, a little taqueria located in what was probably a fast food joint of some sort. I was told that this place was good, but that recommendation left off about 4 o's, because Tavial is gooooood. Truly some of the best tacos I've had in this town, full stop. Even their rice is better than the usual spanish rice you get at these places. The al pastor was the clear winner, but I also had carnitas, which was just as crispy and flavorful as you'd hope carnitas to be. You know what? I'm going to add 4 more o's. Tavial is gooooooooood.

05.26.2018 - by Steve
Roman's CafeColumbia Heights
Chicken fried steak

Columbia Heights contains multitudes. Vegetarian Indian restaurants, hole in the wall taquerias, the best Korean restaurant in the city. Flameburger. And I'd assumed I'd explored it all, having driven and biked down nearly every major street in what isn't very large suburb. But then I discovered 40th Avenue. I don't know how I hadn't seen it before, but there's this little strip of businesses on 40th that feel almost like an abandoned downtown, or at least an attempt at neighborhood-building that stalled out at some point in the 70s. But on this stretch are 3 food establishments of note: Amos & Amos barbecue (you've never heard of it, have you?), Miller's Bar (you've never heard of it, have you?), and a greasy spoon breakfast nook called Roman's Cafe (consider it heard-of). Amos and Amos looks a little questionable, Miller's supposedly has great burgers—we tried going there twice now and both times it was packed—and I can now finally report back on Roman's. And the report is good. This is a legit, kinda gross but in a good way, hole in the wall. Everyone who works there appears to either be part of the same family or the same biker gang. Or at the very least, the same AA program. It lacks any of the charm of somewhere like Ideal Diner, or even Fat Nat's. It's mom 'n pop in the truest sense, the kind of place that often seems like it might be great, but in reality is often just a mess. But Roman's is the real deal. They're doing it. Hearty and well-prepared breakfast food for totally decent prices. My chicken fried steak might have been the best I've ever had. It was freshly battered, rather than some frozen bullshit, hot and crispy, and the steak inside wasn't chewy or mushy. Top notch. The hashbrowns weren't anything spectacular, but they were exactly what you'd want. Meanwhile, Erin ordered the Big Johnson, the very classy breakfast special that is apparently their claim to fame. I don't remember what all was in it, but it did come with a polish sausage. And let me say, have you ever had a polish sausage with pancakes? It's outstanding. Nicely char grilled too. Anyway, I can't imagine Roman's blowing up or selling out any time soon, since it's located in the Columbia Heights Mystery Zone, but hopefully they can at least stay in business long enough to get back there one or two more times.

05.24.2018 - by Steve
Crepe & SpoonNortheast Minneapolis
Peanut butter and jelly

You can probably imagine my shock and despair when I looked at the menu board at Crepe & Spoon, and saw that all but two flavors of their ice cream was vegan. Vegan ice cream!, I thought, This is bullshit! That's not even ice cream, there's no cream in it! Nowhere on the sign outside, or in the name of the place, does it say "Vegan" ice cream! False advertising! Shenanigans! Shenanigans!

Then you can also imagine my shock and bewilderment when I took a bite of this vegan ice cream product—peanut butter and jelly flavored—and it was creamy and sweet and gall dang delicious! The secret is that they use coconut milk instead of milk. Which adds up. So really any flavor you get—even peanut butter and jelly—is going to taste a little like coconut, which is weird for peanut butter and jelly. But whatever.

05.22.2018 - by Steve
Dusty'sNortheast Minneapolis

I've gone my whole adult life assuming Dusty's dago sandwiches had marinara on them. Am I wrong? 1 point deduction, but still a solid sandwich.

05.01.2018 - by Steve
Holy Land DeliNortheast Minneapolis
Philly cheesesteak

You might not believe me, but I'm going to say it anyway: the Holy Land has one of the best Philly cheesesteaks in the city. Not the best—that honor still goes to the former Galooney's, now Red's Savoy on Hennepin—but if you're dumb enough to make a trip to Holy Land and order something other than some delicious shawarma or falafel, you'll be pleasantly surprised.