Reflections of a Floating World

I haven't finished listening to this new (fucking killer) Elder record yet, so I can't really form any real thoughts about it (except that it's fucking killer). I just love the album cover so much that I want it on the top of the page. So here it is. Pretty sweet, right?

I Can Feel The Night Around Me

Remember a few posts down when I accidentally bought the Cameron Avery album thinking it was a different album by a different bass player of a different popular indie band? Well I knew you were wondering, and here it is! The actual album I meant to buy! Nightlands' I Can Feel The Night Around Me! It's pretty good. Lots of (dare I say?) Beach Boys-y harmonies, chill moody washes, just barely funky. It's good enough.

The Catherine Wheel

Back in late high school I decided I should like the Catherine Wheel. I didn't. Then I tried again in college, still no. Once more around the early-oughts, no dice. But recently I woke up in the middle of the night, and could just feel it. "It's time," the voice told me. "You totally like the Catherine Wheel now." So I picked up Ferment, and I do!

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

I've always had a hard time appreciating Father John Misty. Which is odd, because he seems to fit right in to the Harry Nilsson / Randy Newman / Benji Hughes singer songwriter continuum that I'm such a sucker for. But this new one finally tipped the scales for me, and I'm totally sold on this thing that he does. I don't know if I'm ever going to just take it out for fun and enjoyment to listen to all that much in the future; this is some very specific, disruptive, thesis-oriented stuff that doesn't necessarily play well at parties. But to sit and listen to Pure Comedy is like reading a good book, or watching a good movie. Glad I did it, who knows if I'll need to revisit it in the future.

The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers put out a new album, and look, it's not too great. It's good and competent like their last 3 or 4, but just doesn't have the highs of their best stuff. But more importantly, I finally managed to see them live! And even more importantly than that, I saw them live with Neko Case on the tour! Dan Bejar wasn't on this tour, but that's okay. To be honest, they all seemed a little bit tired and sleepy, looking a lot like a band that's been doing this for 18 years. But they still played great, they played the hits, and holy crap can Neko Case seriously sing. She's unbelievable. I'd follow her into battle.

Future Islands
The Far Field

I'm super impressed by Future Islands' ability to stay the course. They easily could've gone the obnoxious route after 2015's "breakthrough", hiring big-name producers (Danger Mouse?) or bringing in bigger sounds (Danger Mouse and an orchestra?) or—mercy—partnering with Young Thug or something. But what they did is make another Future Islands album. And while part of me is curious about what exactly "next level Future Islands" might've sounded like, I'm perfectly happy just taking 12 more songs of Sam Herring—possibly the best voice in all popular music right now—singing over some steely driving indie new wave.

Emperor of Sand

Over the last 15 years, every Mastodon album has been something. Remission was the brutal and concise debut. Leviathan was the transformation from concision to confidence. Blood Mountain was the big weird bold step into 'anything goes and we can do it all.' Crack The Skye was the mellowed out prog concept album. The Hunter was an all-out refinement down to songwriting basics. Once More Round the Sun was seemingly an appeal to mainstream popular metal. Things were going so well until those last two. So I was a little nervous for the state of Mastodon leading up to Emperor of Sand... and I'm still a little nervous. I'm really not sure what this album is, how it fits in. If anything, Emperor of Sand is every Mastodon album at once—there's some Remission/Leviathan rage, there's some Blood Mountain weirdness, there's a lot of Skye vocal trading and layering, and there's unfortunately still plenty of Hunter/Once More 3-minute tunes potentially ready for hard rock radio. I don't know what to do with it. Luckily, Mastodon happens to be really, really good. So even if I'm confused by its mission, I still enjoy the hell out of this album.

Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

A Crow Looked at Me is such a personal record that I hesitate to even call it a 'record.' I hesitate even more to attempt to write a review of it—or at least I would if I wrote reviews professionally for some critical venue or another. It's probably the best Phil Elverum record since The Glow Pt. 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear people say it's his best work ever, but even that praise feels imprudent. The situation is that is the man's wife died, and he wrote these songs to try to bear it. Some of them are journalistic records of post-loss minutiae, some are memories of the days and months previous, and some are urgent pleas to the universe to make sense of it all. It's all deeply moving and deeply personal, but written beautifully and honestly, prose poetry just barely formed into songs—and it's all written specifically to her, rather than to the listener or some omniscient third party. I'm not using hyperbole when I say that it's somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, as if these are private recordings not meant to be heard by anyone else. But Elverum released it because he wants to share, so I'm okay with it (although, in honesty, I haven't even turned the record to Side B yet. It's just too painful to engage with all in one sitting). Musically it's very pretty, free of nearly all of the instrumental obfuscation that he's practiced over the last decade, generally acoustic guitar and some assorted droning keys and basses. But lyrically, I think there's no question that it's the best work of his career, although again, even raising the question or placing these words in the same canon as his previous work feels entirely beside the point. The whole collection is wonderful, really, and while I'm sure Phil might appreciate hearing that, he almost certainly doesn't care. This isn't a record of music, it's a record of a man who is trying to cope by doing the one thing he knows best how to do: making a record.

Cameron Avery
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams

Here's a funny one. I bought the wrong album!

What I thought I was buying was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player of The War On Drugs, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. What I actually bought was the new compositionally-rich and vocal-centered solo album from the bass player from Tame Impala, which I'd listened to recently and found intriguing. Imagine my surprise.

So what happened is that, yeah, both of those albums exist. And I think I listened to songs from both just a few days before. But instead of hearing the spooky and psychedelic choral swirls of the War On Drugs guy (Dave Hartly), I heard Cameron Avery's American-songbook inspired throwback crooning. But I don't mind, because it's good! And perhaps better than being "good," it's interesting.

The thing about this album is that it's a little gross. Whether he's writing these songs to be tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or even experimental, there's a palpable machismo to the whole thing. Songs about lovin' and leavin' and sayin' "sorry babe" when you have to hit the road with your band, telling your girl to get her hair nice and pretty so you can take a drive with the top down—hell, just referring to her as "your girl". This is all stuff that was probably in music in some times and places, and you could probably hear far worse in any random hip hop album of the last couple decades, but there is something jarring about even hearing someone referring to "my girl" on what's ostensibly an indie rock record. But looking past the lyrics—which yeah, are interesting and impactful in their shamelessness, if a little bit blunt at times—the music here is very much inspired by classic American songbook fare, and not in some corny, Pat Boone kind of way—they're beautifully constructed tunes, and recorded with the earnest grit of a National or Walkmen album, not an ironic horn section to be heard. And what keeps this all from becoming just too much is that, shit, this dude can fucking sing. I'm not saying he'd win American Idol or anything, but he'd at least make it to Hollywood. Although beyond a couple tracks, he actually handles most of the vocals more in the Leonard Cohen (late 80s Leonard Cohen) vein. Really, the short version of this review is "Leonard Cohen performing A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night with The National as the backing band". I can see a point six months from now when I'm sick of this album and never want to hear it again, but for now I'm absolutely fascinated by it.

Aimee Mann
Mental Health

Hey this Aimee Mann album is real good! I feel like it's been a long time since I've been able to say that; not that there's anything bad about her last three (or four), but they've all just felt a little uninspired. This one is a nice little 'reset,' very calm and understated, primarily just Aimee and a guitar, with some minimal extra arrangement every now and then. Just lovely. But, I will say, a long-time issue I've had with her writing really makes itself known here: Lyrically, she has a tendency to write in couplets. Very simple and predictable A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D rhyme schemes. I've noticed it over the years with her, but this time around I was about to yell half the time, just thinking "If the ends the next line by rhyming 'down' with 'gown,' I'm going to lose it." And then she rhymes down with gown. Still, it's a really nice record, with better songs than she's written in years, and it's mellow and goes down smooth. I'll take it.

Hot Thoughts

I don't think Hot Thoughts is too great. Probably definitely in the lower rungs of the Spoon discography. However, buried down in the dregs of side B is "Tear It Down," which I think—maybe, just maybe—might be the best Spoon song ever recorded. Yes. I mean, "The Underdog" and "Inside Out" might have an argument, but at the very least it's the most Spoon song ever (apologies of course to "The Way We Get By"). It's a pure extraction of everything Spoon does, laser focused and perfectly composed. The rest of the album, whatever.

Laura Marling
Semper Femina

Laura Marling is very, very good. Her album is produced by Blake Mills, who is also very very good. But I worry that Blake Mills turned this Laura Marling album a little too much into a Blake Mills album. Kind of like what he did with the Alabama Shakes. Except I ended up really enjoying that Alabama Shakes album, and I'm already starting to really enjoy this Laura Marling album, because Laura Marling is very, very good.

Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy's Demo

Music is so weird in 2017. Here's this guy, Steve Lacy. He's 19 years old. 19. Just out of high school. He apparently has some tangential connections to the eminently respectable Los Angeles jazz collective that centers around Thundercat and Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington (the collective who, as I see it, are one of the few music communities in the country right now who are really truly really doing something new and vital and real). He apparently also has connections to this group The Internet who I've mostly ignored since they appeared a few years ago. And this kid (he is nineteen) records a demo, supposedly entirely on his iPhone, and puts it up on SoundCloud. Within a week or two, Pitchfork has reviewed it (and gave it a realistically respectable 7.2), and it has received thousands and thousands of listens. And then I went on iTunes and paid $3.99 for it and am writing about it on my own music blog. This is the 15-minute demo tape of a 19 year old recorded on an iPhone. Nothing makes sense.

Except what does make sense is this dude's music. And it's not what I expected. This is not some 19 year old making trendy synthy electronic sampled GarageBand junk on his iPhone. This is fully live-instrumented, cleverly constructed pop-soul music. And it is very good. One track in particular, "Dark Red," is outstanding, and I can hardly believe a 19 year old wrote it. A nice cycling, walking chord progression, understated but confident vocal melodies, good but not flashy instrumental work. If this reminds me of anything, it's Cody Chesnutt's Headphone Masterpiece, an equally rough-but-exciting piece of bedroom recorded poppy soul music. But where that was a 2-disc batshit journey through the mind of a hermit genius, this is really nothing more or less than what its title implies: Steve Lacy's Demo. It's 15 minutes, 6 tracks, a couple under 2 minutes long, 1 of them almost unlistenably bad, 1 of them transcendently good, and the rest absolutely respectable enough for me to get really, really excited about what this Steve Lacey kid might do when he records with something other than a goddamn iPhone.

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!