The Decemberists
I'll Be Your Girl

I was going to say this is the worst Decemberists album, but then I remembered Hazards of Love exists, so I'm not very sure anymore.

Room Inside The World

Ought has never fully won me over on a single album. I'm fully in love with 3-4 of their songs, but a lot of their other ones are just a little too Wire/Fall/post-punky for my baby ears. But when they're on, they're on. Italicized. This new one, then, is a bit surprising; it doesn't have that 1 killer single, but at the same time, the whole record comes together better for me than their others. Mostly that's because they've clearly shifted their sound into a more "melodic" direction. Scare quotes mandatory, since their singer has a, um, unique (italicized) way of delivering words into a microphone. Speaking of unique vocalizing, do you like Future Islands?

Andy Shauf
The Party

Here's one I seriously missed from 2016. In fact I think most people missed it. Most people except for Cornelius and Jeff Tweedy, both of which are on record in interviews mentioning Andy Shauf as one of their favorite new artists. And if Jeff Tweedy and Cornelius recommend somebody, I am absolutely on board, and it took me less than 30 seconds of listening to one track on this album to be totally sold. This is some Jim O'Rourke-level guitar pop arrangement, with melodies that are immediately impactful (and winding and dreamy and all those other good words), sung by a guy who almost sounds like the singer from Clinic. Just weird enough. And I guess this record is a concept album about a party. Anyway, had I known about this in 2016, it certainly would've made my Best Of The Year list. Maybe not #1, but damn high anyway.


I'm a little bummed that this new Rhye album isn't better than it is.

Jeff Rosenstock

This dude Jeff Rosenstock is a famous and respected figurehead of the 21st century punk-ska scene. I'll pause until you stop laughing. Anyway he's actually a legit good dude, and writes songs that far exceed what you'd expect from such a dude; his solo stuff, like this new POST record is really more power pop than pop punk. But it's a little of that, too. Anyway, POST is really frikkin good, and he yells "FUCK NO!" in one song and it gives me shivers, man.

Oh, and a couple songs sound like Aqueduct, which is weird.

Steve's Favorite Music of 2017
A List

1. Girlpool - Powerplant
2. Cornelius - Mellow Waves
3. Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau - Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
4. Ryan Adams - Prisoner
5. One And Future Band - Once and Future Band
6. Sampha - Process
7. Mastodon - Cold Dark Place EP
8. Kendrick Lamar - Damn
9. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
10. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy

Bell Witch
Mirror Reaper


St. Vincent

I had prepared myself to spew my righteous rockist anger at this, St. Vincent's ironic-but-not-ironic-but-maybe-ironic pop cash grab. Produced by that guy who produces everything. Beats by cool beatmakers. A self consciously sexy and colorful marketing push. Pre-release singles that were about Weezer-level dumb things like Los Angeles phonies and, like, pills. Holy shit was I going to tear this album a new one. Or maybe I'd say "Um actually it's a work of genius!". One of those two.

But really, all I have to say is that it's just good. That's it. It's really not much different stylistically than her last album and a half. The pop thing isn't really a thing, and there's just as much guitar wizardry as I'd hope. But still, "Pills"? Really?

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice

I'm really, really hoping to be wrong about this, and I very well might be, but I think this Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile duet album is a bummer. Why is it a bummer? I don't know. I like both of them (although I like Courtney a whole lot more), and I generally like the idea of what they're doing. But it just doesn't work. Their voices don't sound good together, their songwriting styles don't mesh, it just feels wrong. But I dunno. Hopefully I can delete this post a month from now and write about how much of a dummy I was for writing those last 6 sentences.

Robert Plant
Carry Fire

I know better than to underestimate any Robert Plant solo album, even now in 2017. Somehow he's retained a Dylan-like baseline of "at least listenable" for everything he records, even now into his 70s, and his record with Alison Krauss earlier in the decade is somehow a transcendent modern classic, despite its kinda-dull-NPRness. So yeah, I'm not surprised that Carry Fire is good. But I am startled by how good it is.

Kamasi Washington
Harmony Of Difference

"Truth" might be the most beautiful thing Kamasi Washington has recorded. Which is a very high bar.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Luciferian Towers

The first two tracks here are a little bit boring, but the last two really scratch that Godspeed itch.

Ted Leo
The Hanged Man

So here's this new Ted Leo album, which is pretty exciting, since he's Ted Leo. And even more exciting than usual, because of his recent forays into a gentler, more melodic side of his music with Aimee Mann. Word also got around that he recorded it all himself, in his new home studio, and it was shaping up to be a sort of personal symphony-to-god type record; keyboards and horn sections and choirs and the whole bit. Sounds great. Except for that it doesn't sound great. In the literal auditory sense. It's cool that he put together a home studio and recorded this thing, but just sounds rough. Like a demo for a much better later recording. The drums are dull and soft, the bass is fat and flat, the guitar is okay, but doesn't have nearly the razor edge that his old recordings often had. It's a bummer, because some of the songs are pretty good, but they just fall flat. It's not even a 'recorded so poorly that it becomes even better' lo-fi kind of situation. Real weird album. I'll keep listening to it though. It feels like a grower.

Kendrick Lamar

I was wrong about Damn. I heard the singles and wrote it off. "It sounds like he's given up and reaching for radio hits," I grumbled. "It doesn't hold a candle to has last two unimpeachable classics" I groused. "It's everything wrong with the current state of popular music," I whinged. Oh but then I listened to the damn thing. I already said I was wrong, what more do you want from me?

Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!

I miss early millennium indie rap. I didn't even like most of it at the time. But compared to the autotuned trap garbage getting thrown around all day every day in 2017, hearing a guy from Maine rap about poetry over electric pianos and jazz samples and breakbeats goes down real smooth. Don't know if I'll ever listen to this album in 2018, but I like having it around for now.

Iron and Wine
Beast Epic

It seems most of the world has moved on from Iron and Wine after his last couple jazz-inflected Astral Weeks-lite experiments, which I actually liked, but I get it. Everybody is wearing black silk onesies and playing MIDI keyboards and appearing on Beyonce albums now. It makes sense that nobody has much room in their hearts for the beardy sad guy with a guitar. But Sam Beam doesn't care. He's not trying his hand at synthpop or Mumford arena folk. Hell no. In fact he's gone back to his original band and studio and recorded an OG-AF Iron and Wine album. And it's so nice.

The Cure

I've long held a controversial opinion that Wild Mood Swings is the best Cure album. Look. It's not a hill I'm willing to die on. But I will say that "Plainsong" is untouchable.

03.20.2017 - by Steve
Steak piada

I don't remember what my exact thoughts were about Piada, since I ate there a few weeks ago and forgot to Music & Food it, but I do remember this: For a Mall of America food court restaurant offering "Italian street food" (which basically amounted to an Italian burrito), this was way more tasty than it had any right to be. I can't speak for their pastas or anything else, but these "piadas" easily get my "well if you're in a food court you certainly could do worse" recommendation.

02.12.2017 - by Steve
Shake ShackBloomington
Chicken sandwich

I wrote about Shake Shack a couple months ago, and my general opinion on their burger was something like, "Well, I mean, it's good, but is that it?" But on the recommendation of a NYC insider source I have, I tried their chicken sandwich. And here's what's up you guys: this might be the best fast food chicken sandwich in the game. It's flawless. It's a real chicken breast that's been marinated or brined or something, and then battered right there in house, and fried perfectly, and topped with some pickles and some kinda aoli. Not too crazy, not too bland. I know they're famous for their burgers or whatever, but this chicken sandwich is good enough to start a megahyped fast food chain of its own.

09.14.2016 - by Steve
Shake ShackBloomington

It certainly would've been nice to write this one about 10 years ago when Shake Shack was an honest NYC phenomenon, a single little booth in a public park Sea Salt style serving what everybody swore were the greatest burgers ever burgered. But when I first attempted around 2008, the line was basically around the park and I didn't want to waste 2 hours in the city for a burger. Then the next trip I went to a Mets game and saw there was a Shake Shack in the stadium, but that would've been 2 innings in line. Then a couple years ago I saw one in downtown Chicago, but I'd just eaten dinner and had no interest choking down a cheeseburger just for a blog that nobody reads, so I just had a shake instead. Well now there are literally 100 Shake Shack locations around the country, including one at the Mall of America, and it's still not even that special, because it opened months ago, and I only just got around to trying it tonight. So I ordered the classic Shack burger with fries. I sat down, got my food, reveled in its presence. And I took a bite. And it was... pretty good I guess! But not worth missing 2 innings of a Mets game for.

09.02.2016 - by Steve
Roast beef

I've decided Wally's is officially the winner of the Great Twin Cities Roast Beef Sandwich Shop battle. Regards to the challengers Mavericks, Penn Lake Roast Beef, and Broncos, but Wally's roasts the superior beef.

But more importantly, my latest trip (only my second) to Wally's struck a blow to everything I hold dear and true, and I don't know what to think anymore. When you get your roast beef sandwich at Wally's—and Mavericks and Penn Lake and Broncos—you take it over to the toppings bar, where you can top it with onion, horseradish, peppers, lettuce, and barbecue sauce. At this hour, I was feeling like barbecue sauce, so I slopped some on the wrapper and sat down. But when I dipped the sandwich and took a bite, the sensation was familiar. A little bit of tang. A little bit of sour. A little bit of sweet. I've tasted this before. OMG it's the same barbecue sauce as Ted Cooke's! Can this be true? Is Ted Cooke's just buying their sauce from some hack food service distributor? But why is it I've never tasted this particular sauce anywhere else? It's very unique! Almost hoisin-y. And delicious. And I love Ted Cooke's barbecue with every ounce of my soul. But how can I continue to love a lie? What do I do now?

03.25.2016 - by Steve
Melt ShopBloomington
Fried chicken melt

This is part of the Mall of America's new collection of "good" food court places, a mysterious entity that clearly is somehow a chain, but who even knows who owns it or runs it or created it or where their money is coming from or if there are other locations somewhere else or if the food is actually prepared in house or if it's the same Aramark crap as everything else, or what. Melt Shop. Like, "Malt Shop," but with melt sandwiches, got it? Cuz they have malts, too. So anyway I got a "buttermilk fried chicken" melt. It was on sourdough bread and had some red cabbage slaw and pepperjack cheese and "Melt Sauce" on it. The chicken was actually quite good; they didn't fry it to order, but they had some prepped and ready to go, and it actually had good breading on it, rather than being the crappy frozen chicken I expected. Everything else, the sauce and the slaw, was just As-Expected. Not special, but good enough. So it was good. Fine. My biggest problem was price; for a mall food court place (even a "good" one), the addition of tots and a drink to the sandwich would've put it up over $15. Which, I don't know. I get it—the sign says "artisanal". But it's still a mall food court.

01.17.2016 - by Steve
Burger BurgerBloomington

There's a Shake Shack opening up at the Mall of America soon. This is big news, I guess, because Shake Shack is a burger chain of downright mythic proportions. Of course, once it opens up here, it will no longer be mythic, and all the stories of people standing in line at the single Shake Shack in a park in New York's Flatiron District will be a distant memory, and it will just be Shake Shacks and Five Guys and Chik Fil A's and (eventually) In And Outs everywhere we look. On the opposite side of the mall, a 180 degree walk around the third floor, you'll find Burger Burger, a "local" burger shop that desperately, desperately, desperately wants to be Shake Shack. They've built their entire brand around fooling people from outside NYC into thinking they are—black and green and white, little iconographic burger and shake illustrations, promises of hand-pattied burgers and fresh fries, a two-word, repeated first-consonant name. It's sad. And when the real Shake Shack opens up across the mall, it will be even sadder. Because despite their desperation, Burger Burger is good. Really. There is nothing wrong with their burger, or their fries. It's tasty and not-too-greasy. A quality burger! They should be proud! But they're probably going to be sued into oblivion.

04.06.2014 - by Steve
Denny's 5th Avenue BakeryBloomington

So here's this place, Denny's 5th Avenue Bakery, that I've biked and driven past 100 times, a seemingly ignorable and unremarkable gray cement block amongst the other unremarkable cement blocks on American Boulevard in Bloomington, with a corny chef cartoon character on their sign, and the unfortunate coincidence of being named after America's worst family restaurant chain. I'd never really considered giving it a shot, because I assumed that it wasn't even really open to the public; I figured it solely an industrial/wholesale baker, selling to grocery store chains and private labeling cafe cookies and who knows what else. But while we were in the area Saturday morning with donuts on the mind, I figured 'well I guess we can try that Denny's place.' We pull into the parking lot and I can barely believe my eyes. It was as if, overnight, Martha Stewart's own personal Charm Fairies (TM) performed a midnight operation on the gray cement block, and suddenly it's got a cute blue paint job, cute yellow awnings, cute white subway tile, cute funky menu boards, and (not as cute) customers! And what's more, they have cronuts! Holy shit! Look, I know this isn't New York, and the whole cronut craze was so 2013, but I had yet to actually encounter one here in town. And you could tell even looking at it that it wasn't exactly the same as the infamous Manhattan cronut and its even more infamous ripoffs. But it was something. And of course, it was delicious. Croissanty, donutty, chocolate on top. Like a donut, mostly, but different. I liked it. I'd have another. We also split a maple bacon long john (which has seemingly become a modern day donut shop staple), that was as good as any other maple bacon long john I've had. So hot damn! Denny's Bakery! I don't think it's ever going to become as cool as a Glam Doll or that monkey place on West 7th, but that's fine by me. Would eat again!

03.26.2014 - by Steve
Wally's Roast BeefBloomington
Roast beef sandwich

There's a secret cold war that's been brewing for years in the Twin Cities food scene that doesn't quite rival the Matt's vs. 5-8 Club jucy lucy wars, but has nonetheless mobilized the faithful on both sides. I refer, of course, to the Wally's vs. Maverick's Roast Beef War of the First Ring Suburbs. For decades now, both locations have-- ugh. This is terrible and going nowhere. I'll get to the point: Both these places, Maverick's in Roseville and Wally's in Bloomington, serve practically the same menu, centered around their "famous" roast beef sandwiches. Both places offer decent but clearly frozen food service fries. Both places have a little toppings bar with onions, pickles, horseradish, barbecue sauce, and other fun stuff. Both places offer other fast-food type fare than is clearly meant to play second fiddle to the roast beef. The roast beef itself, in both cases, is clearly high quality, but somewhat lacking in flavor. This shit is better than Arby's, that's for sure. But you don't get the same head-melting payoff you might get with a good home-cooked beef roast, or even what you'd get from, say, a garlicy Maryslack's sandwich (what you used to get there, at least). Despite that, I do kinda love both Wally's and Mavericks; I love that they exist. Though neither is particularly historic at this point (Wally's is located in the first floor of a Southtown office park, for cripes sake), they both spiritually harken back to the days when fast food was a fresh new novelty, when McDonald's was a mom'n'pop shop, and a roast beef sandwich was the height of lunchtime integrity. If I had to pick, I'd choose Wally's. The beef is a little tastier, and their horseradish sauce has more bite. But both of them, as well as the third-party minor players of Penn Lake Roast Beef and Bronco's in Anoka, are worth trying out.

03.26.2014 - by Steve

Forgot to mention that we went to the new Masu location at the Mall of America. It's great! It's been open for a couple years in Northeast, and while people like it, I don't think it's become a hotspot or anything. But I can tell you that, pretty much by default, it's already the best restaurant in the MOA. And sort of funny to see that the design of the MOA location is attempting to create almost a carbon copy of the Northeast one, right down to the white brick and Roman columns of the exterior.

03.26.2014 - by Steve
Pardon My FrenchBloomington
French onion soup, french chicken sandwich

There's this video going around the internet this week, of a high school girls track meet. In the video, one of the runners, physically unable to finish the race due to injury/exhaustion/something, is helped across the finish line by a fellow runner, who forfeited her own place in the race in order to help her fallen competitor. Inspiring, heartbreaking, supposedly. Yet I feel like there's something wrong about the whole thing. ("Of course you do, Steve.") First, it feels like a purposeful imitation of that similarly inspiring/heartbreaking video from a few years ago, where the softball player hits a game winning home run, injures herself rounding the bases, and is helped to home plate by the opposing infielders. As if the runner saw the other runner go down and said, "Oh, I should help her like those softball players did. That's a thing I'm supposed to do." But in the case of the softball game, something was at stake. The injured girl had to touch home plate to win the game, and the team that lost because of it helped her do it. Sportsmanship. In this race, the injured girl was already in last place. By a lot. The girl that helped was in second to last. Nothing was lost or gained here. It wasn't a once in a lifetime achievement that had to be fulfilled. It wasn't going to decide who did or didn't win the state title. It was just to finish a single race. Which leads me to think that, if I was the runner that collapsed, would I want another runner to help me across? There's something oddly shameful about the situation. Like, "I understand and appreciate your support, but please just keep running, I'll be fine, I'm in last place anyway, don't make a big deal out of this." Finally, the injured girl, upon crossing the finish line, looked seriously ailing. It almost looks like all the heartfelt struggle of getting her across the finish line made things worse. Maybe she should've just had a doctor attend to her on the track when she first had problems. Maybe getting some tearjerking footage for everyone's Facebook page wasn't worth the possibility that this girl may have had a goddamn heart attack.

And that's what I think about Pardon My French.

03.26.2014 - by Steve
Philly cheesesteak

Do you really, really miss Gameworks? Are you planning a complicated crime and need a hideout where you and your accomplices will never, ever be found? Are you contemplating suicide, but need that final little push to get yourself over the hump? Go to the Skydeck, on the fourth floor of the Mall Of America! They have food. From a menu. They'll cook it for you. The bartender will call you "champ."

03.26.2014 - by Steve
Pardon My FrenchBloomington
Almond cookie

There's this new place in the Mall of America, in the corner by Nordstrom's where that Wolfgang Puck pizza place used to be, called Pardon My French. Now before you go jumping off a bridge at the very thought of it, let me say, it might be good! I haven't eaten any real food there yet, which seems to be mostly light sandwiches and a couple burgers and some 'flambe' flatbread type things, but I did have an almond and chocolate ganache cookie from their bakery. And it was tasty! And all the other sandwiches in the case looked to be quality. So who knows! I guess his isn't so much a 'review' as it is a heads up: Pardon My French might actually be worth trying out. And now that Bagu is opening an MOA location, things could start to get interesting. The Mall might not be a food black hole after all!

03.15.2012 - by Steve
La MixtecaBloomington
Shredded pork

You know that creepy looking little Mexican place in the strip mall by where you live that has terrible lighting and advertises cuts of meat you've never heard of? You should go there some time. It's probably good. Not great, but at least good. La Mixteca, for instance, in a strip mall JUST on the Bloomington side of 494 (on Portland), made my night last night. They have a ton of stuff on their menu, including short ribs and pork shanks, which is a bit unusual (but compelling), as well as tongue, face, and less scary shredded pork and creamed chicken. I just had a straight-up platter of the spicy shredded pork with rice, beans, and corn tortillas, and I couldn't have asked for anything more. Great flavor, nice and tender and juicy, top notch! I will definitely be back (the barbacoa looked incredible). And like every other random strip mall Mexican place, it was served on a cafeteria-style styrofoam plate, so I'm destroying my intestinal track, and the earth!