02.24.2018
Ought
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?

02.24.2018
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.

02.24.2018
Rhye
Blood

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

02.24.2018
Jeff Rosenstock
POST

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.

01.16.2018
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

10.31.2017
Bell Witch
Mirror Reaper

Slow.

10.17.2017
St. Vincent
Masseduction

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?

10.17.2017
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.

10.17.2017
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.

10.17.2017
Kamasi Washington
Harmony Of Difference

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

09.28.2017
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.

09.28.2017
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.

09.19.2017
Kendrick Lamar
Damn

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?


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09.19.2017
Milo
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.

09.11.2017
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.

09.11.2017
The Cure
Disintegration

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.

08.08.2017
Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You

I'd heard of Mary Halvorson before in recent years, but I mostly randomly happened upon this new Away With You album. It's a fascinating listen. Halvorson is a jazz/improvisational guitarist, and the octet is made up mostly of what you'd imagine a traditional jazz octet to contain. But the music feels like something truly its own. It's jazz in that it contains improvisation, is mostly instrumental, and moves itself along themes and modal movements, but save for its occasional forays into noisey free-jazz nonsense, the goup plays more like an experimental post-rock band attempting to translate marches and waltzes through the freewheeling horns of a New Orleans parade band. Except I just read that sentence and it's not like that at all. I don't even know. The high points on here are near miraculous; everything comes together behind some beautiful descending chord progression and weirdo guitar melody, and it feels completely fresh and new. And fun! But then all too often, the tracks fall apart into noodly free-jazz bullshit and aimless drum solos. It's not going to find a place in my life the way that more melodically-composed recent albums by Mammal Hands or Courageous Endeavors, but still, this is something worth hearing, refreshingly outside any sort of modern jazz orthodoxy.

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
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.

07.18.2017 - by Steve
Pizza PartyBrooklyn
Pizza

I had more pizza at a bar called Pizza Party, which is this close to being an annoyingly twee hipster name, but I think is actually fun and charming. Anyway, the pizza reminded me of our beloved 'Minnesota style' pizza, if that's actually a thing. It was pretty good I guess. I don't remember what else I had to say about the place. Anyway.


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07.18.2017 - by Steve
San LocoBrooklyn
Tacos

After the disappointment of La Lupe, I still had a taco jones to fix. San Loco did the trick. This is a tiny little take-out counter that advertises itself specifically as "Gringo-mex". Or as I like to call them: "Mom tacos." Interesting see a non-chain place specifically advertise this sort of Americanized, Taco Bell style taco as a feature rather than a bug. But I guess San Loco has been around for quite a while in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and had a good enough reputation. Anyway, I got the San Loco equivalent of a double decker taco (basically the most perfect fast food item ever created, in my opinion; a hard shell taco coated in refried beans and wrapped in a flour soft shell. Get one next time you're at Taco Bell. It's great). And hey, it was great! Ground beef and cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce. Not trying to be a "real" taco, but absolutely satisfied me. Talk about authenticity all you want, but there's something to say about this global cultural exchange of ours.

07.17.2017 - by Steve
La Lupe CantinaBrooklyn
Tacos

La Lupe is a somewhat cool taco joint in Bushwick, but I'm not going to write much about it, because the service was unreasonably slow and the tacos were very boring. But the photo looks pretty, huh?

07.17.2017 - by Steve
Lucy'sBrooklyn
Smoked beef banh mi

You've already read my thoughts on the Brooklyn Vietnamese food scene. Actually, you probably haven't. Well scroll down to Little Mo and then come back up here maybe.

Back? Good. Hi there. Thing is, I didn't love Lucy's. I don't remember the details of why I didn't like it, but the bread felt wrong, the meat was a little tough, and in general it just didn't come together as I'd like it to. But part of that might have been spoiled expectations, because: Lucy's is the best smelling restaurant I've ever been or walked past. Not exaggerating. The place is tiny—it's basically a kitchen, a counter, and one table. So you're a lot closer to the smells of a kitchen than you often might be, making the smells that much stronger. But even then, the aroma coming out of Lucy's front door is incredible. Because aside from the standard smells of a Vietnamese kitchen, that pho broth and lemongrass and fish sauce, Lucy's is smoking meats back there. It's magical. I bet the pho is amazing, but my sandwich just didn't live up to the smell.

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Little MoBrooklyn
Short rib banh mi

I was surprised at the number of Vietnamese places in Brooklyn. Well, maybe not simply the number (there are plenty more to be found in Minneapolis and St. Paul), but the number of cool Vietnamese places. Where most of the Twin Cities spots are hole in the wall, family affairs, the Brooklyn places seem to operate out of the "Hey, pho and banh mi are hot new food trends!" mindset. Which, sure, why not? Lucy's is the real hot spot (you probably scrolled past it already), but the best one I tried is Little Mo's. Not much to report in terms of the makeup of their banh mi—it's got all the stuff you want, and some nicely flavored short ribs—but the best thing about it was the bread. To me, the hard crunchy crust of the French roll that tops of a banh mi is often what ruins it. It shouldn't be painful to eat a sandwich! But Little Mo's bread actually had a nice softness to it, without feeling cheap or lesser. A great sandwich! Sadly: I overheard the cashier mention that the place would probably be closing soon. There's some elevated train construction happening nearby that's going to tie up that corner for months, and the owners just decided to shut it down entirely. So, you'll have to go to Lucy's instead I guess.

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Pearl'sBrooklyn
Jerk chicken bake

First world problem, sure, but I'm a little bummed that my first dinner in New York was maybe the best meal of my entire trip! Pearl's is a Caribbean restaurant tucked around a corner, just barely away from the mustached and braless masses of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, who specifically announce themselves as "Pearl's Bake & Shark"—a bake being a sort of Caribbean sandwich on a corn-based fry bread, and shark being, yes, that. I didn't eat any shark, because it kinda creeps me out and makes me sad, but I did have a jerk chicken bake, with a side of rice and beans. And there's not a whole lot to say other than that it was delicious! Not too spicy, not too "jerky", just a well balanced pile of flavors in a slightly-hard-to-eat package. Maybe not as mind-bendingly good as the best meals at Harry Singh's, but far more approachable and not nearly as olfactorally exhausting. Highly recommended!

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Roberta'sBrooklyn
Fennel sausage pizza

There's a restaurant in Brooklyn with no windows and no signs and they have their own radio station and a secret garden on the roof, where the bartender looks like Morrissey and you have to wait two hours to get a table. Well, there's actually probably a handful of those. At least one other one on the same block, I'd bet. But this one is Roberta's, and it's the shit and their fennel sausage pizza is pretty great.

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Northeast KingdomBrooklyn
Burger

For our second NYC dinner, we met up with Libby's old friend Chris (who, insanely coincidentally, lived literally around the corner from where we were staying), and went to his favorite local spot called Northeast Kingdom. The food was fine. All you really need to know is "duck fat tater tots." Yes. But more important for me to note about this place is how it represents a eye-opening and noticeable trend in the world of Brooklyn restaurants (specifically Bushwick, Brooklyn restaurants). Maybe it's a European thing or something, but the branding happening on new restaurants there is absolutely minimal. No signs, no logos, no awnings. At most, the name of the place will be hand painted in a small corner of a window. Or written on a chalkboard on the sidewalk. Maybe some gold leaf window lettering. But it's almost as if there's an unspoken competition happening about who can make their bar/restaurant more inconspicuous (see: Roberta's). The interiors are all similar, too; dark, bricky, woody, earthy, desperately trying to feel lived-in. It works though!

08.24.2009 - by Steve
Oasis of WilliamsburgBrooklyn
Shawarma sandwich

I've had chicken shawarma before, and I've had plenty of gyros before, but this thing I ate at this randomly chosen Williamsburg deli was something else. It started as a standard pita stuffed with sliced shawarma--lamb and turkey in this case--but on top of that was a pile of red cabbage, some sort of peppered pickles (which, according to my research, may have been pickled gherkins), mystery onions, a tzatziki sauce unlike any I have ever seen, and a substance that can best be compared to Chipotle's hot salsa. It was like Egypt, Germany, and Mexico all crammed into one unfortunate pita. The meat, I'm sad to report, was a little bit dry, and the meat/veggie distribution demanded some creative bite-taking. But as I made my way to the middle, it was juicy and delicious and different. And just five bucks. I can't imagine finding a much better and equally filling five dollar meal anywhere, be it New York or wherever. Okay, so I could probably get a better deal on it if it was "Oasis of Cairo" (where it would likely be served to me by the immigrant deli owner, a guy from Kansas City named Andy), but the more I think about it, I don't know if I could ever find a similar sandwich in the Twin Cities. As soon as I get home, I'm storming into the Lyndale Deli and demanding gherkins, dammit! Gherkins!

08.22.2009 - by Steve
EggBrooklyn
Cheese omelette, candied bacon

The obvious first thought: "Oh god, someone opened a breakfast joint in the middle of Williamsburg and decided to call it Egg? Why don't you just shoot me in the head and feed my body to some free range chickens and get it over with? However, after eating there, I have nothing to complain about. For having the gall to name themselves "Egg," there was little or no sense of self-importance or preciousness in either the menu or the interior itself. The space was small and contemporary, but inviting--white walls, unfinished wood ceilings, reclaimed wood tables, that sort of thing, but lived-in enough that you wouldn't get kicked out if you spilled ketchup all over the floor (which I didn't do, thank you very much). The food was perhaps a little too pricey, but really no more than eating at French Meadow or such a place (and cheaper than Cafe Maude, although you should expect to pay a premium for suchcivilized leisure). I suffered major ordering regret--cognitive dissonance, if you will--about my omelette. I should've went with the biscuits and gravy, which Ben ordered and were spicy and just how I like them. The omelette was okay, a little too mushy in the middle, but the hashbrowns were fantastic. Very different, as well; they were basically a big ball of potato hash deep fried into what could easily be confused as a giant falafel ball. Crunchy on the outside, hash-browny in the middle. And of course, I wouldn't dare eat at this place without ordering their candied bacon, which sounds a lot more ridiculous than it really is. Basically, they cook up their bacon coated in maple syrup to create a nice layer of sweetness on the outside. Very tasty. All in all, it was probably a little too expensive, and it can be an awfully long wait to get in if you don't get there early enough. But I'd certainly go back there in the future if its space isn't taken over by a cupcake shop or discount keffiyah outlet. (Oh, and also, free homemade donut holes when you are seated.)

08.21.2009 - by Steve
Grimaldi's PizzeriaBrooklyn
Sausage and red pepper pizza

For the second time this year, I found myself standing in line with a horde of bitter people for a unusually long amount of time outside a highly-regarded pizza place in a very large American city. But unlike my experience with Gino's East in downtown Chicago, this time I actually left satisfied. Granted, Grimaldi's is a completely different beast than Gino's East; we're talking about a one-off, family-owned, coal-fired pizza joint who's popularity is based solely on its reputation and quality, not a mythic regional institution who filters millions of customers a year through its several locations in search of a pizza the size of a tractor tire. The fact that it is located practically underneath the Brooklyn Bridge (very impressive, by the way) certainly doesn't hurt, either. Thin, chewy, and fresh, the pizza was much more similar to something you'd get at Punch than any big greasy pie you might find somewhere (anywhere) else. And to be honest I have a hard time finding anything particular that distinguishes it from Punch. But if you were to set a Punch pizza and a Grimaldi's pizza in front of me right now, I'd choose Grimaldi's, hands down. It was just a perfectly enjoyable pizza with good sauce, good crust, and good cheese. As we were finishing up, we were kindly greeted by who I assume is the owner, a cartoonishly Italian Brooklynite who managed to disparage Bostonians, Asians, gays, children, and himself in about 1.5 minutes, in a way that would've been charming even to gay Asian children from Boston. I believe the staff of Gino's East simply turned the lights off and spit in our to go boxes as they pushed us out the door.