05.14.2020
Little Wings
Zephyr

It's been over 10 years since I was last compelled to listen to a new Little Wings album. This is partly because in the mid aughts he released a few odder, less interesting albums in a row that I couldn't engage with, a sort of diminishing results of weirdness when all I really wanted was more of his perfectly constructed diy ditties. But it's also partly because he straight up stopped releasing stuff for a while. But then suddenly in April, whether because of the lockdown or Bandcamp's occasional artist-friendly sales, or just because he got bored, he opened up the floodgates. He's released (or re-released) 4 or 5 full albums in the last month or two, and one of them is Zephyr, which according to the description is an official release and reworking of an Australia-tour-only cassette from a few years ago, that he had been meaning to flesh out into a full studio album. I'm glad he didn't, though, because this is a fantastic little collection as-is. It's mostly (or all?) Kyle Field and one guitar, no slapped-together backing band, no extraneous experiments or improvised goofiness, no waste, no nonsense. The songwriting on every track is focused and thoughtful, almost every track showing a more mature side of Little Wings, versus the K-Records teenage-symphonies-to-god fantasias that he often works in. But if that sounds a little too dad rock for you, don't worry, he also released a full band improvised garage recording of his make believe surf rock bar band The Be Gulls if that also interests you. I mean to be honest it interests me, too.

05.09.2020
Pure X
Pure X

The first 5 seconds of this album is the album of the year. The dirtiest, grimiest, distortiest guitar you've ever heard, but it's actually playing rich chords, deep grooves. I think the rest of the album is pretty good too, but all that really matters is that one track, "Middle America," and all that really matters about that one track is that damn guitar. (Also, not actually album of the year, that's just a little hyperbole to make for a fun blog. But shit.)

04.28.2020
Gaytheist
How Long Have I Been On Fire

This band is called Gaytheist and they started as a novelty gay-themed metal band in Portland. And they're way better than those two statements would have you imagine.

04.28.2020
Nicolas Jaar
Cenizas

Cenizas is one of the most perfect walking-around-late-at-night-with-headphones albums I've heard in a long, long time. Probably since the last Nicolas Jaar album.

04.28.2020
Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters

If you're reading this in the future (and of course you are, because that's how this whole reading and writing thing works), more specifically, years or perhaps even a decade or two into the future, I wonder what you think of Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Do you think anything of it? Do you think it's a laughable mess and wonder how on earth it got rave reviews upon its release? Or has it grown into an all time classic, an era-defining work of art? What's Fiona up to these days? What did she do after this? And like, did we ever make it out of this mess?

Those are things I wonder. But there are a couple things I need you to know about this album at this time. Foremost is that, for a brief moment, one late Thursday night through the weekend, it was Special. Truly, genuinely, heart-achingly special. This is a shitty time we're living in—not just the pandemic, but everything surrounding, leading up to, and being borne out of it. The bad guys just keep winning, and everything is hopeless. Shit sucks. And not to go too philosophical, shit has sucked for a lot longer than this difficult time. It's sucked specifically women for a whole lot longer than that. And then, just a couple Thursday nights ago, Fiona Apple (already beloved amongst the more in-touch populations of music nerd-dom, and perhaps even beloved-er over the last year after her classic song "Criminal" appeared in a memorable scene in the pretty-good movie Hustlers), decided she was going to release her new album early, and it was exactly what we all needed.

For a couple days, none of the other shit mattered. Fiona was saying everything we've wanted to hear, spewing fire, line after line, song after song, truths we've all been thinking for years now. This world is bullshit. It immediately got rave reviews from outlet after outlet. It famously, in a matter of just a couple hours, got a 10 on Pitchfork, and you'd have a hard time finding anybody who didn't think it deserved every decimal of it. People on Twitter were losing their shit, changing their screen names to bolt-cutter-related puns, changing their avatars to Fiona. Something about the music on this album—the primitive percussive pounding, the gut wrenching vocal missives, the hot knife sharp lyrical veracity—got into not just the zeitgeist, but deep into people's psyches, like no other music release I've experienced in my lifetime. More than Kid A, more than any Kanye release, more than Lemonade or 1984. Which is especially impressive considering this album is nuts. And beautiful. It brought me to the point of tears 4 different times on my first listen. Which I don't mention because I think bringing someone to tears is a reliable sign of a good piece of art, or that I'm trying to cash in some woke points for being a sensitive male or some bullshit—simply that Fetch the Bolt Cutters contains a power that transcends music.

You're in the future, and I have no idea how that statement will land with you. Maybe we're all suffering mass psychosis. Maybe it's just a noisy, fussy follow-up to her actual masterpiece The Idler Wheel. Maybe everyone makes jokes about that "10" that's still sitting on its Pitchfork review. To be honest, after that first weekend finished and Monday rolled around again, and the bullshit of this world kept on piling up and the people in charge kept on shoveling onto it, we all moved on. But for about 3 days, we felt like we might actually win, and Fiona was leading the fucking charge.

You're in the future, and I hope the bolt cutters have been fetched.

04.18.2020
The Mountain Goats
Songs for Pierre Chuvin

I never got into the Mountain Goats until they (he) was past their (his) extremely lo-fi, record-directly-into-a-boombox-cassette phase. My intro happened I believe around 2009 when The Life of the World To Come was released, which more or less marked the beginning of what might be phase three of the Mountain Goats. We're talking full band, pristinely engineered, studio recorded collections of songs which generally floated around (or directly interrogated) a single theme—not quite rock opera style, but far more linear than the lyrical concerns of most other bands. Life of The World still feels like a wonderful album to me, but in the 10 years since, I have to admit their output has suffered from long, slow, diminishing returns. And despite the thematic differences (one album about professional wrestling, one album about a D&D campaign), their studio sound has sounded more or less the same from album to album. Crisp and clean and full, yes, but the spark from those early boombox recordings has been sanded off almost completely.

But then what happened—have you heard?—is we're suddenly living in these difficult times. John Darnielle is stuck at home, and is sitting on a pile of songs. And whether he came up with the idea, or whether hoards of his fans shouted the idea at him after hearing him play some of his new songs into his smartphone camera, he decided to get his old boombox out and record Songs for Pierre Chuvin

It's a minor revelation. The joy of hearing him shout these words onto a tinny hissing cassette tape is genuinely refreshing. I don't think the studio sheen was ever hurting the Mountain Goats necessarily, but you hear him play these songs and you realize how unnecessary it's been, like we've been missing out on something essential about his songs for the last decade.

But that's the other thing. I don't know if these songs are exactly up to the task. They're interesting, they're clever, they make you want to know what's going on (did I mention the whole album is based off a book by a Harvard historian about the pagan cultures of the 5th century AD who were confronting the new specter of mass Christianity entering their worlds? That's what the album is about. That's what the phase three Mountain Goats do). But no single track on it has the power of his best early work. "This Year," "No Children," "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton", these are the obvious 3, but the list could go on well beyond that. Those songs were deeply human, richly described, absolutely cutting in a real way. I don't remember the last song Darnielle has written that's cut to a core in the way that these do, and none of the songs on Songs for Pierre Chuvin hit that mark, despite the boombox.

Still, simply listening to Darnielle sing his guts out into a boombox was exactly what some of us needed right now. Well, until we were asked to Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

04.17.2020
Laura Marling
Song For Our Daughter

I'm sorry that Laura Marling released this album a week before Fetch the Bold Cutters. Well no, actually I'm glad she didn't release it the same week, because it would've been totally eclipsed by the sheer gravity of that thing (not that we're comparing), and that would be a shame. Because Laura Marling is an overlooked gem of a singer songwriter, and this album is just as pristinely listenable and comforting as her last, oh, five albums (over the same stretch as Fiona made her one. Not that we're comparing).

04.17.2020
Hailu Mergia
Yene Mircha

Just getting some posts out of the way so I can write a few dozen paragraphs about Fetch the Bolt Cutters!

Jk. Well not really. But mostly. Look, I only got into Hailu Mergia with the album Lala Belu he released a couple years ago; I'm not going to pretend like I first heard his obscure 1970s Ethiopian club recordings on some limited vinyl release or something. But that album totally surprised me with its left-field organs and surprisingly soulful accordion jams and one of the most hootin'est hollerin'est upbeat tunes of that year, and one of the prettiest solo piano exercises on this side of Brad Mehldau and McCoy Tyner.

Yene Mircha caught me fully by surprise. I had no idea he was planning on releasing a new album (he'd only released that one in the last 40 years after all), until I saw it on some new release list somewhere. And then it caught me by surprise again. The first run through this album left me a little cold. Where Lala Belu was a made by a simple trio, this one fills out the band with electric guitar and more drummers and backup singers and a full band sound that can veer real close to adult contemporary, jazzamatazz territory. But even by the second listen, I got over that stuff and realized there was still this unique melodic voice underneath it all. And some weird ass keyboard, organ, and accordion sounds. The highs aren't as high as Belu, but it's a dang fun time anyow.

03.28.2020
Fluisteraars
Bloem

Fluisteraars is a Danish black metal band who put out an incredible song, "Oeverloos" a year or two ago. It was just one song one one side of a split single with another metal band, but it was a masterpiece. Part of what made it great—as is usually the case with great black metal songs—is that it didn't necessarily follow the rules of black metal. It had melodic moments, it had moments that sounded like early 90s alt rock, it vibed. And it left me desperate for a full-length from these guys.

Bloem is finally that full-length, and I'm confused. It doesn't seem to be breaking any rules, it doesn't seem to have many outside influences beyond extreme metal, and yet—it vibes. My initial reaction was disappointment of course, but it's one of those albums that somehow hooked into me despite myself, and I've probably listened to it a dozen times already. Something about the melodies on it, redundant as they get from track to track, feel timeless. Like this is the only black metal music ever recorded and we already know it all by heart.

So now I'm just desperate for a follow-up to this one.

03.26.2020
French Vanilla
How Am I Not Myself?

Last Friday Bandcamp had a very nice deal where for 24 hours they gave 100% of purchases to the artists, rather than taking their usual 15% cut (which is actually a totally fair deal, and by all accounts Bandcamp is an honest and decent company who's service to artists is heads-and-shoulders above the big streaming companies, so this isn't an interrogation of them. But good on them anyway). It was a huge day, and the community of internet music weirdos seemed truly engaged with jumping on Bandcamp for a day and hoarding as much digital download loot as possible—help out some small artists, hear some good tunes, what a deal! The site seemingly had a massive day, based on the fact that it was completely overwhelmed and had numerous outages throughout the day. But no worries, I got some stuff, everyone got some stuff, it was a nice little event.

Of all this stuff, the one that's really stood out to me is French Vanilla's How Am I Not Myself?. This album came out last year, and I heard a couple singles from it and thought they sounded fun, but as these things go sometimes, I just kinda forgot about them by the time they released the full length. Thankfully something jogged my memory on Friday, because just like I remembered, this album is hoot! It's tight, upbeat, angular music that's got a fun beat and is easy to dance to. It's music that could have a handful of genre descriptors attached to it—indie pop, post punk, dance rock, twee new wave—but I'm going to dare to go one scary step further:

5th wave ska.

And before I elaborate on that, I'm just going to go ahead and end this music post. French Vanilla is 5th wave ska and I be you'll enjoy listening to them. Stay safe out there.

03.17.2020
Snarls
Burst

Gen Z'ers who are deciding to pick up guitars are also seemingly deciding to pick up Sundays and Cranberries and Ride and Lush records, and we're all extremely lucky for it.

02.16.2020
Walter Martin
The World at Night

Charming.

05.20.2020 - by Steve
Randazzo PizzaBrooklyn
Chorizo jalapeno pizza

It's possible you've read my precedent on this website that all New York pizza is equally good. More or less, exceptions to the rule, all that. As such, I'm not going around posting about all the pizza I eat on here, just trust me that it's generally good.

Randazzo is one of those good places, a regular ol slice joint within walking distance of my place. But the other day they had a new slice on offer: jalapeno, onion, and chorizo. I wasn't necessarily in the mood for this combination, but it looked fresh out of the oven and I was curious. My friends, am I ever glad I did, because this slice was good enough to break my rule and post about a slice of pizza. It's extremely probable that chorizo and jalapeno and onion slices can be found at random slice joints all over town, but on this one afternoon, for one sweet moment, during the global confusion of a mass viral pandemic, Randazzo PIzza was the best pizza place in town.

05.13.2020 - by Steve
SungaiBrooklyn
Nasi lemak, roti canai, rendang

I don't eat Malaysian food very often, but whenever I do I usually end up deciding it's my favorite of all the foods.

04.17.2020 - by Steve
Mia's Brooklyn
Cinnamon roll

Boy oh boy does it seem silly to write food reviews during this difficult time.

So I'm gonna write about how I went to Mia's in Carrol Gardens during the first weekend or two of this whole thing, and got myself a cinnamon roll.

You know what's weird? Cinnamon rolls aren't really a thing here. You can find them around of course, but there's no guarantee that any bakery you enter will have them. Even when you do find one, it's often the crustier deep-fried type like you'd get at Dunkin Donuts or something, rather than the big, gooey, bready, baked kind that us MIdwestern fatsos grew up on. I can get a bagel on any block in this city, a black and white cookie, a pile of cannoli—but I find myself longing for a quality cinnamon roll here more often than I ever would've imagined.

Anyway Mia's is pretty good. A little on the patisserie side of things rather than the Cinnabon side of things, but that's Carrol Gardens for you. I'd try to make a mission of finding this city's Best Cinnamon Roll, but you know—this difficult time.

01.01.2020 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2019Brooklyn
A List

1. Olmstead (Brooklyn) - Dry rubbed scallops
2. Buttermilk Channel (Brooklyn) - Duck meatloaf
3. Mu (Queens) - Burger
4. Foxfire Mountain House (The Catskills) - Roast pork
5. Junior’s (Brooklyn) - Cheesecake
6. Alma (Minneapolis) - Turkey burger
7. Beefrria Landia (Queens) - Birria tacos
8. Buffalo’s Famous (Brooklyn) - Garbage plate
9. Prince Street Pizza (Manhattan) - Pepperoni pizza (Detroit style)
10. 5 Rabanitos (Chicago) - Pork mole
11. Joju (Queens) - Banh mi
12. Eastwind Snack Shop (Brooklyn) - Dumplings
13. Andrew’s Luncheonette (Brooklyn) - Cheeseburger
14. Roll n Roaster (Brooklyn) - Roast beef sandwich
15. Tony Luke’s (Brooklyn) - Philly cheesesteak
16. Hudson and Charles (Manhattan) - Roast beef sandwich
17. Captain James Crabhouse (Baltimore) - Steamed crabs
18. Shanghai 21 (Manhattan) - Spare ribs
19. Taïm (Manhattan) - Falafel
20. Momofuku Noodle Bar (Manhattan) - Sausage buns

12.14.2019 - by Steve
Eastwind Snack ShopBrooklyn
Dumplings

This is a little joy of a restaurant. A cozy luncheonette style nook off the main drag of a quiet neighborhood just a few steps from a hidden subway entrance that's only two stops away from us, which serves a confidently concise menu of dumplings and noodles, created as a back-to-basics project by a legit chef and lauded as some of the best dumplings in the city by a good number of magazines and websites—and given that Anthony Bourdain seal of approval—yet never at any point overwhelmed with crowds or wait times or hipster accoutrement that might otherwise tank such a perfect place. Since going there for the first time last week, we've already been back once more just a few days later for a quick pre-dinner bite. A year into living in this city and I think this is finally the first place we've finally decided is "ours".

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Defonte'sBrooklyn
Italian sandwich

My open ended (closed face) sandwich quest in this city finally brought me to a place I've had on my list for nearly all of it, hidden back in a weird corner of Red Hook, seemingly purposefully attempting to keep people away with its sheer inaccessibility yet still swarming with construction dudes on lunch break and weird old guys who've never left Red Hook but will still be there long after you die, it's Defonte's.

To be honest I went there so long ago now that I don't remember exactly the details of my sandwich. But I do know it was good—very good in fact. One of the better deli sandwiches I've had here. What I mostly do remember is that Defonte's is really truly the real deal. The sandwich was great, all their specials looked great, their hot deli items looked well above average, and they've got a whole menu of stuff that made me wish it wasn't located in a place that's physically exhausting to get to, no matter the method of travel.

(As an addendum, I'd like to mention that after I got my Defonte's sandwich to go, I took it to a nearby Fairway supermarket that Erin and I occasionally like to frequent, to eat in the seating area of their deli. The reason I mention this part is that the Red Hook Fairway's deli seating area is legitimately a hidden gem of Brooklyn tourism. The store is on the bottom floor of an old waterfront shipping warehouse [see: On The Waterfront], and when you go through the glass sliding doors of the deli, you'll suddenly be treated to one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty in the city. Sure it's still far away, but it's closer than the view from Battery Park in Manhattan, plus you actually get to see the front of her instead of just her butt. It's a really nice place to sit and eat lunch; totally silly that it's just part of a regular grocery store, but that's probably better than it being taken up by some restaurant or brewery.)

11.21.2019 - by Steve
Junior'sBrooklyn
Cheesecake, brisket, latke

Junior's Bakery and Deli is a Brooklyn institution that I've just assumed—based on its cheesecake's ubiquitous presence in local grocery store aisles and its not one but two Times Square locations, as well as the general Perkins-level sleepiness of its interior that I see through its windows every time I walk by it—is past its expiration date. Comparing it to a place like Katz's, which revels in a dogged, hard-won legitimacy, or Russ & Daughter's and its craft-and-quality-above-all ethos, Junior's simply appears a place that's given up. Or rather, sold out.

I don't know what the going opinion on Junior's is amongst the locals here, but I'm comfortable taking this stand: Hey, Junior's is actually good!

Their cheesecake, obviously, is very good. I don't think that point is too heavily in dispute, even though the grocery store version lacks a little in comparison to the fresh stuff you find at their bakery counter—which is truly and non-hyperbolically the best cheesecake I've ever eaten. But what surprised me is that their actual food, at least what we ordered, is damn respectable! The menu, which I expected to be generic American/Greek diner fare, actually leans much more into the New York Jewish deli world, with pastrami and brisket and matzo ball soup. In fact, the item I ordered, which was featured years ago on the Village Voice's list of 50 Essential New York Dishes, was a monstrosity of a brisket sandwich that uses potato latke as a bun. It was truly obscene. But It was also truly delicious, far better than I feared it might be. Erin felt her matzo ball soup was a little canned tasting, but I honestly think it was better than she made it out to be, and even more enjoyable (really) than the bowl she had from Jack's Wife Frida a few weeks ago. I can't say it was better, quality wise, than Frida's, because it obviously wasn't. But I simply found it more satisfying to eat, which kind of sums up our entire meal. I enjoyed every bit of it.

And now I'm supposed to end this review like every Junior's review probably ends, by saying something like, "But you really go there for the cheesecake!" Which yeah is probably true. But y'know what? I just had such a fine evening from top to bottom at this place, that I'm not going to minimize it with the go-there-for-the-cheesecake bit. Junior's is a joy, and I hope they never actually sell out.

10.28.2019 - by Steve
Buttermilk ChannelBrooklyn
Duck meatloaf

Hey now we're on a roll! After months of eating things and saying "Hmm, nothing's really blown me away in this city yet," first came Olmstead's blueberry scallops, and now Buttermilk Channel's duck meatloaf. Nothing's going to top those scallops, but this meatloaf is easily the #2 best thing I've eaten this year. And like the scallops, it comes with a sweet fruity reduction—cherry, to be specific. Nothing else too crazy about it, although I'm not sure what percentage of it was actually duck (it can't be 100%, right? That's a lotta duck. I imagine there's some pork or something in there too). Otherwise just some roasted rutabaga and some arugula, but damn it was good. Everything else we had at Buttermilk Channel—their 'famous' fried chicken and some leek soup—was totally fine but not remarkable. But the meatloaf made it all worth it.

09.10.2019 - by Steve
Jay & Lloyd's Kosher DeliBrooklyn
Pastrami on rye, potato latke

I found a real, classic New York Jewish deli in Sheepshead Bay! You can tell it's authentic because the sandwiches are $24 each and a little bit disappointing. Good coleslaw though.

09.06.2019 - by Steve
Burger KingBrooklyn
Impossible Whopper

I'm sorry, but I'm allowing Burger King to infiltrate the unblemished columns of Music & Food. But it's for an important reason, which is that one afternoon I suddenly realized the world is falling apart and my fat guy is complicit, and the best way to make it better is to go eat an Impossible Whopper.

I hadn't had one of these Impossible things yet, even though they're starting to get advertised everywhere. I think even White Castle is doing them? Anyway, I have to say, they do a fine job of being burger-like. Right before my first bite, I got a gentle whiff of some odd nuttiness, and a bit of that not-quite-right essence I used to get from those Deli Expresses burgers you buy out of the the vending machine. But once I dug in, it more or less just tasted like a Whopper! The onion and pickles and mayo and ketchup and mustard probably helped a lot too, but still. I'd be interested to try this Impossible stuff in a more, uh, epicurean context. But if Burger King suddenly decided to secretly swap all their real Whoppers for fake ones, I honestly would be okay with that.

And I never ate real beef again. Also don't read anything else on this website ever.

08.17.2019 - by Steve
OlmstedBrooklyn
Dry rubbed scallops with blueberry, watermelon sushi, other stuff

I've got to tell you about these scallops. Shit, man. Seriously. Probably—no, easily—the best thing I've eaten in New York. In fact it's probably the best thing I've eaten anywhere in the last couple years.

So the restaurant is Olmsted, up nearby-ish in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and while it's been around for 2 or 3 years now, it kept showing up on every Best Restaurant list I read. It's won James Beard stuff, Michelin stuff (okay, they don't have a star, but they're on the recommended list!). It's basically just become the restaurant in Brooklyn. And since it was Erin's birthday, and we've barely even touched the surface of the surface of this city's 'good' restaurants, this was a perfect opportunity.

Okay, okay, I'm going to scrap the rest of the intro because I seriously have to tell you about these fucking scallops

You know that magical moment in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens the door of her house after the tornado and suddenly the world is in full color? Or that part halfway through Elliott Smith's "Sweet Adeline" where he's playing a nice acoustic Elliott Smith song and then suddenly every instrument in the world comes in an you're soaring in the sky and everything is beautiful? More specifically, you know that stupid moment in commercials or cooking shows where someone takes a bite of some food and suddenly their eyes snap open and their head rears back and they can't contain themselves and how wonderfully delicious that bite of food was, even though it's always contrived nonsense because nobody ever does that? These scallops made me do that.

I don't remember how the menu describes them exactly, but basically what we're talking about is your standard scallops, but dry rubbed and grilled, served with some combination of a blueberry (smoked blueberry?) reduction, some sweet corn, chanterelle mushrooms, and another cream-based pan sauce of some sort. Oh and they're served as a kabob atop a husk of a leek or something. But what happened is, we ordered a bunch of small plates, it was all very good, and then the scallops show up. They look good, the sauces look a little dull or dark maybe, but whatever. So I take one off the kabob, run it through a little bit of the sauce, get a mushroom and a corn kernel on there, and I, you know, take a bite. The first thing I get is the blueberry. It's very sweet, very blueberry-y, I'm prepared to say "weird" and move on. But then, a fraction of a second later, Dorothy opens that sepia door and everything is technicolor and the world is a beautiful place. And I honest to god nearly dropped my fork, eyes snapped open, mouth agape in a stupid smile, and all I could do was laugh.

It's so good you guys!

You get it. I won't go on. Anyway, the rest of everything we had was very very good as well. You're probably wondering about the watermelon sushi, which was exactly what it sounds like but probably my least fave of all our plates. It's a hit with the public at large though.

Oh and I just read the chef here used to be Jerry Seinfeld's personal chef. Nice work if you can get it.

08.07.2019 - by Steve
MeMe'sBrooklyn
Brunch, meatloaf, chili oil eggs

MeMe's is a cool Brooklyn diner that has a decent brunch. They serve a little bowl of dry cereal before your meal which I thought was going to be annoying but it was actually pretty satisfying. They have nice paintings on their walls and they have cake.