12.30.2020
Steve's Favorite Music of 2020
A List

Boy what a year, huh? Okay, let's get on with it.

Favorite Albums
1. Hum - Inlet
2. Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters
3. Kahil El’Zabar - America the Beautiful
4. Snarls - Burst
5. Little Wings - Zephyr
6. The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin
7. Fluisteraars - Bloem
8. Deerhoof - Love Lore
9. Katatonia - City Burials
10. Adrianne Lenker - Songs and Instrumentals
11. Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
12. Jeff Rosenstock - No Dream
13. Keiyaa - Forever, Ya Girl
14. Kaatayra - Toda Historia pela Frenta
15. Wye Oak - EP
16. Blake Mills - Mutable Set
17. Future Islands - As Long As You Are
18. Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi - Fuubutsushi
19. Necrot - Mortal
20. Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas
21. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
22. Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi
23. Johanna Warren - Chaotic Good
24. Gaytheist - How Long Have I Been on Fire?
25. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full


The Annual Short List Of Albums That Are Unquestionably Excellent, But Are Too Intense, Long, Difficult, or Otherwise Exhausting To Listen To On A Level Which Would Lead Them To Become My "Favorite"
1. Fiona Apple - Fetch The Boltcutters*
2. The Microphones - Microphones in 2020
3. Armand Hammer - Shrines
4. Ka - Descendants of Cain

* Yes, I know that I also put Boltcutters on the regular list—all the way at #2 nonetheless! I know! But somehow that album belongs on both lists. It's unequivocally a masterpiece of an album, and I enjoyed the hell out of it when I listened to it over the first few days of its existence. It blew up in the culture at a time when we needed it, and it was a profound cultural experience. And it slaps. And yet, in the months since, with everything that's gone on in the world, I just feel like I can't go back to it. It already carries such a deep, weird, intense significance, that I don't know when or how anyone can go back to it and just give it a casual listen, singing along. It's weird man!


Favorite Songs:

1. Shamir - “On My Own”
2. Snarls - “Walk in the Woods”
3. Pure X - “Middle America"
4. Kahil El’Zabar - “America The Beautiful (Instrumental)” + “America The Beautiful”
5. Jeff Rosenstock - “Monday at the Beach”
6. Jeff Rosenstock - “Ohio Tpke”
7. Johanna Warren - “Rose Potion”
8. Little Wings - “It’s Only”
9. Destroyer - “Crimson Tide”
10. Katatonia - “Heart Set to Divide”
11. This Is the Kit - “Coming To Get You Nowhere”
12. Hum - “Shapeshifter”
13. The Beths - “I’m Not Getting Excited”
14. Moses Sumney - “Cut Me”
15. Wye Oak - “Walk Soft”
16. Fiona Apple - “Fetch the Boltcutters”
17. Adrianne Lenker - “Anything”
18. Jessy Lanza - “Anyone Around”
19. This Is The Kit - “This Is What You Did”
20. Run The Jewels - “Ooh LA LA”


Best Guitar Chord

1. Pure X - "Middle America"
If the first 10 seconds of this song was the entire album, it would probably be my album of the year. Just play it on repeat for a while, it's all I need.

12.30.2020
Loma
Dont Shy Away

I'm gonna post my Favorite Albums of the Year list tomorrow or the next day. Loma probably won't be on it. Sorry, Loma. But if you come back to me in, say, 4 months, I'd bet this would squeeze its way on, maybe somewhere near top half even. What I mean is it hasn't fully connected with me yet, but I can feel that something's there. It's just buried a bit and needs some time. Especially over another shitty few months of the shitty world and the cold air and hopefully some snow. Yeah, some snow would move this thing up to at least #7.

12.30.2020
Kaatayra
Toda História pela Frente

Lo-fi bedroom Brazilian rainforest black metal melted and deconstructed past the point of psychedelic and damn near back to where it started. If that sounds good to you, welcome.

12.30.2020
Keiyaa
Forever, Ya Girl

Lo-fi bedroom Erykah-Badu-ian neo soul melted and deconstructed past the point of psychedelic and damn near back to where it started. If that sounds good to you, welcome.

12.30.2020
Ambrose Akinmusire
on the tender spot of every calloused moment

Y'know, I don't usually like trumpet jazz. They're just so shrill. Except for Miles Davis, but that's fucking obvious.

Anyway Ambrose Akinmusire is trumpet jazz, but I actually like it. He kinda plays like Miles though.

12.30.2020
The Mountain Goats
Getting Into Knives

With the (glaring) exception of Songs for Pierre Chuvin, the Mountain Goats first full length album of the pandemic and a glorious return to the lo-fi tape deck recording of his early days, I could use the same boilerplate format to review this second album of the pandemic as I could with every Mountain Goats full length of the last, oh, 10 years. In short: {Album title} isn't bad by any means, but it lacks the energy of Darnielle's best work. Still, I think it might at least be a little better than {previous album}, but I'll have to sit with it for a while before I have any stronger feelings. {Steve then sits a little longer but ends up with no stronger feelings and never really returns to the album once the next one is released.}

Songs for Pierre Chuvin though. Fuckin rules.

12.30.2020
Adrianne Lenker
Songs and Instrumentals

Big Thief is on an untouchable run in the last couple years, and apparently this includes their lead singer's solo albums. I listened to this album (well, the songs album at least) once, and by the second listen I knew every song. I don't know how she does it.

12.15.2020
Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi
Fuubutsushi (風物詩)

This isn't the best jazz album of all time. Or the best jazz album of the year. I don't think it will make my top 10 albums of the year, maybe not even the top 20? There's nothing particularly profound about it, no boundaries being broken, no new musical voice that demands to be heard. I can't hum any of its melodies, I can't remember which track does what, or which is my favorite, and as of this moment I don't even remember the name of the ensemble that composed and performed it.

Still, Fuubutsushi is one of the most genuinely calming collections of music I've ever listened to. Just absolute laser-focused tranquility, every beat of every track. Start with some ECM jazz, a little Eno-level ambient chording, balance it out with some light chamber string work, sprinkle on some ethereal field recordings, and the occasional jingle of hand chime percussion. It's almost too much, leaning dangerously into farmers market yoga meditation CDs, or the in-store music at MUJI.

But fuck that, I love MUJI.

12.09.2020
This is the Kit
Off Off On

French post-indie-prog-jazz-folk. Saxophones and banjos and French accents. And jams.

11.13.2020
Kahil El'Zabar
Kahil El'Zabar's America the Beautiful

There's still hope for this country, and this album is proof.

11.02.2020
Future Islands
As Long as You Are

There's absolutely nothing about this new Future Islands album that makes it any different than their last two or three. When I heard the advance singles, I could only shake my head and sigh and admit that, after the bummer that was The Far Field maybe I was done with Future Islands.

And then it comes out and I listen to it in full, and it might actually be their 2nd or 3rd best album! I can't account for it, I can't point out what makes it stand out. It just works. The songs are "better," the vocals are "feeling it". Whatever any of that means. I've already listened to it more than I ever listened to Far Field, maybe more than Singles and On the Water. Sometimes it just works I guess.

10.22.2020
Necrot
Mortal

Guess what kind of music these guys play?

10.21.2020
Deerhoof
Love-Lore

Deerhoof released a new album in which they cover and melodize songs (and poems and drones and excerpts and process experiments) by Ornette Coleman, J.D. Robb, Voivod, Earl Kim, Knight Rider, Raymond Scott, Mauricio Kagel, Eddie Grant, Gary Numan, Stockhausen, The Beach Boys, Gerald Fried, Pauline Oliveros, Kermit the Frog, James Tenney, Silver Apples, The Police, Kraftwerk, John Williams, Morton Feldman, Sun Ra, Parliament, Asha Puthli, Ennio Morricone, Milton Babbitt, The B52s, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vinicius De Moraes & Baden Powell, Dionne Warwick, David Graeber, Derek Bailey, William Hanna & Hoyt Curtin, Anthony Braxton, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eric Siday, Igor Stravinsky, Caetano Veloso, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, John Cage, George Brecht, The Velvet Underground, and Laurie Anderson, and it shockingly—although not really shockingly because this is Deerhoof we're talking about—works. Honestly I'd already put it in the top 5 of their catalog.

10.17.2020
The Microphones
The Microphones in 2020

The Microphones in 2020 is a beautiful personal essay in the form of a beautiful personal 40 minute song in the form of a beautiful personal 1 track album. Like much of Phil Elverum's recent beautiful personal output, it deserves an award and I'll never listen to it a second time.

09.03.2020
Boris
NO

I've never really enjoyed Boris before. More than that, I've never even really understood Boris. Who are they? What are they doing? Is it drone? Is it noise? Is it metal? Is it electronic? Is it a band? Or a person? Do they only collaborate with other artists? What's the deal with Boris?

But then they put out this new album NO, and answer all my questions with very little room for confusion. This is a metal album by a metal band, hard stop. Okay well maybe not total trad metal, it has bits of hardcore and maybe some noise and punk in there, but not unlike the Oozing Wound album from last year (which I loved), this is just straight up nasty riffage. Crushingly intense. Not terribly intricate, but limber enough to make me wonder why they'd just been doing drone shit all those years. Or maybe they didn't? Did they? What were they doing that whole time?

12.31.2020 - by Steve
F&F PizzaBrooklyn
Sausage and sage pizza

A few years ago, before I lived here, I made a visit to a restaurant called Frankie's 457 Spuntino. I wrote about it. Look it up, won't you? Well so about a year ago, Frankie's opened up a slice shop called F&F, right next door (although they also have a pizza restaurant called Frank's, on the same block. It's all very confusing), and I ran into one of those situations where suddenly, out of nowhere, every food-ish type media outlet was casually referring to F&F as one of the best pizza joints in the city. Lucky for me, I happen to get my hair cut at a place right across the street, and stopped by after a pre-pandemic haircut to get a slice. Pepperoni, I believe, because they were out of everything else that evening. It was good, but I wasn't fully moved to declare F&F the best anything.

Fast forward to this year—I dunno, August? (I'm just posting this now because I forgot to back then. It's been a stressful year okay?). I was in the neighborhood again, and thought I'd give it another shot. This time they were fully stocked, and specifically pushing this one particular pie, hot sausage with sage and brown butter. Say no more! And this time around, yes, absolutely ready to declare F&F the best something.

Without going too far, in terms of preparation or presentation or thankfully price, F&F is absolutely dabbling in "elevated" pizza. The dough has a sourdough bite, the sausage and sage are conservatively spread, and it's cooked to just a little more of a browned char than at your average slice place. And it all comes together absolutely beautifully, the cheese and grease and brown butter sage caramelizing together into a rich singular thing, all on a paper plate for about $4.50. Best pizza in the city? Impossible question. But as far as your standard NY style triangle slice joint goes, sure, yes, I don't think I've had better.

11.13.2020 - by Steve
David's BrisketBrooklyn
Brisket on rye

The last place that was on my list of food to finally eat before I leave Brooklyn for Queens (because once you move to Queens you're never allowed back into Brooklyn. It's the law.) was David's Brisket, a secret dark-horse competitor in the ongoing debate of What's The Best Jewish Deli in New York.

(It's still Katz's, but lemme keep writing this anyway). You don't hear much about David's Brisket. It's a nearly invisible hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Bed Stuy—not exactly Jewish deli territory—and doesn't visually impress much on either the outside or the inside. You'd barely even consider it a 'Jewish deli' when you're in there. I don't think it serves blintzes or latke or matzah ball soup or any of those other standards, just the basics: brisket, pastrami, corned beef, and maybe smoked turkey, along with some basic potato and macaroni salads. I think the pastrami is perhaps the "right" sandwich to order there, but I decided to go with the brisket. Because it's David's Brisket! It's right there in the name!

And it was great! Tender, succulent, flavorful! And whatever rye bread they used gave juts enough bite on its own, that I wasn't too bummed that they forgot to give me a side of mustard. Walked down, sat on some stranger's iconic Bed Stuy stoop, and enjoyed the hell out of every bite.

I'd love to go back for the pastrami, but I don't think Brooklyn will let me.

11.02.2020 - by Steve
Hassan Halal Meat & GroceryBrooklyn
Chicken kebab

Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery currently has 1 star on Google. I'm actually surprised you can even look it up on Google, because to some extent it may as well not even exist—I'm surprised simply by the fact that I was able to find that it's actually called Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery and not simply "that shitty bodega next to the other shitty bodega," or "that place where I think they sell meat in the back." There are innumerable places like this in Brooklyn, that you walk by 100 times without noticing, or when you do notice them, you have to wonder for a few seconds how they can possibly still be in business, or what their business even is, and then you consequently forget about them immediately.

Early last year I started frequenting the laundromat a few doors down from this place. It was bigger than the next closest laundromat, and they have a parking lot, so I could lug more bags there without having to hire neighborhood kids to help me carry it all. While waiting for the wash cycle to finish, I'd often walk around outside, and maybe hit up the other shitty bodega for a Coke or candy bar. It never even occurred to me to go to this one, the view from outside was so despairing.

Then one day, when the whether got nicer, a charcoal grill appeared outside. And the next laundry trip, a guy was out there grilling kebabs. Then the next time, he was grilling chicken legs. Every time I walked past, someone would be out there grilling, sometimes alone, sometimes with a few customers or friends—mostly likely Pakistani—sitting around. It always smelled amazing. But it was never clear who they were grilling for. Were they selling this stuff? Was it just for themselves for dinner? Nothing on the windows of this place advertised any cooked meat. Yeah there was seemingly a butcher that sold bulk cuts in the back, but this was not a place you'd stop in to get a bite at. I saw this grill outside for months, just assuming it was not for me. But shit did I love smelling them every time I walked past.

Then on a recent night, waiting for another wash cycle, the other shitty bodega was shuttered. Permanently? Temporarily? I don't know. But I wanted a Coke, and didn't want to go down the block to the other other bodega. So I popped in to Hassan. The grill wasn't outside that night, so I wasn't thinking much about it. I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of Coke, and went to give the man my dollar.

And there I saw it: sitting in an Ikea tupperware bin on the counter, unrefrigerated, probably breaking a dozen different health laws, unrepentant, a pile of kebabs. It was finally happening. "Are those kebabs for sale?" A dumb question in hindsight, but you have to understand the laissez-faire nature of this place's merchandising methods. He looked at me—I read puzzlement on his face—"Yes, one dollar. Do you want it heated?". I replied no, to another period of puzzlement, and he handed me the cold floppy kebab on wax paper and I took my Coke and left.

Cold, yes, floppy, yes, and one of the best kebabs I've ever eaten.

Nicely seasoned but still a good dark meat chicken flavor, surprisingly spicy, and a kiss of char. I immediately wanted to go back and buy three more. Maybe heated this time. Or at least catch them as they were grilling them rather than buying them out of the tub. That'd be weird though, right? Anyway it was a deeply rewarding kebab. This whole idea of finding a secret little hole in the wall; I mean, that's a dumb cliche and probably classist and racist on our part to think about, right? Like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry befriends Babu? But I can't stress this enough in this case, you guys: No cool white yuppies or Instagram food influencers are going in there to find the secret kebabs they read about on Eater or something. It's just an invisible Halal butcher shop that serves parts of the huge neighborhood of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. But the feeling of knowing that this guy on his grill outside this 1-star nothing grocery store is making the best fucking kebabs you've ever eaten—it tickles.

Postscript: We moved to Queens last week, so I probably won't be back to Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery. But a week before we left, when I was out doing one last load of laundry before packing, I had to stop in to see if I was imagining this kebab experience. So I grabbed a pop, went to the counter, and interrupted the owner's conversation with the 4 guys that were all sitting around shooting the shit. "I'll have a kebab, heated please." There was a little puzzlement again, but of a different stripe. He grabbed the kebab from the tupperware, nuked it in the microwave for a few seconds, and handed it to me in the wax paper. As I paid, he stopped and asked me straight up, "How do you know about—", rough English kind of ending his question short. I told him how I see them grilling outside all the time and it smells great, and I bought one a few weeks earlier. Honest to god, I don't say this to make myself look like some fucking white savior do-gooder bravely supporting his neighbors or whatever—that Seinfeld Babu thing—but when I told him that, his face lit up with a genuine smile. I'm sure those dudes talked shit about me when I left, but whatever. The kebab was even better hot.

11.02.2020 - by Steve
KorzoBrooklyn
Korzo burger

Korzo is a Polish restaurant with some totally solid Polish food. But they're only really known for their house burger. I'm realizing now as I type this out, it doesn't sound very special at all, but just bear with me. The burger is a regular beef burger, topped with bacon and house-made pickles and European cheese and a sort of beet-mustard concoction. Fine, good so far. But instead of a bun, this is all wrapped—encased, really—in a totally sealed pocket of dough, and deep fried. The result is outstanding. I don't understand how exactly they get the whole burger sealed inside this thing, with the toppings sitting nicely on top, but they do it. Like you're eating a fried pierogi with a full cheeseburger inside. It makes for a totally satisfying bite—and the dough all holds together so well that you don't have that annoying thing you often get with regular burgers where the toppings or meat starts to slide away from the bun, or maybe you run out one and end up with just the other. It's a clean eat! Top it off with great fries, great goulash, great brynzové halušky (you heard me). It's fantastic. And now I don't live anywhere near it, so shit.

11.02.2020 - by Steve
The Kettle BlackBrooklyn
Buffalo wings

If you ever read a list of the best wings in NYC, you will likely see the Kettle Black. You might get so curious after seeing it appear so often that you will want to travel all the way to Bay Ridge (i.e. the place where all the cops live) to try them.

Don't bother.

11.02.2020 - by Steve
Ugly BabyBrooklyn
Kang prik, khao soi nuer

Ugly Baby is a hipster-but-in-a-good-way epicurean-but-in-a-good-way, minimalist-but-in-a-good-way Thai restaurant hidden behind an elevated subway track on the border of Carrol Gardens and Gowanus. It's absolutely delicious—some of the best and most interesting Thai food I've ever had. Their website is just raw HTML text telling you to go to their Instagram page to see their menu, in the form of a pinned IG story. But in a good way. Absolutely recommended.

10.12.2020 - by Steve
ZuriLeeBrooklyn
Jerk chicken pizz

I'm so far behind on food updates that I'm just gonna leave this one here and hopefully get back to it later. Things have been crazy, ok?

10.12.2020 - by Steve
Honey BadgerBrooklyn
Weird foraged spicy berry

I'm so far behind on food updates that I'm just gonna leave this one here and hopefully get back to it later. Things have been crazy, ok?

10.12.2020 - by Steve
Peter Pan DonutsBrooklyn
Donuts

Some people say Peter Pan Donuts are the best donuts in New York. Some people say that those people are just being tricked by the the aw-shucks old timeyness of Peter Pan's setup and the fact that those people probably just live in Greenpoint or Williamsburg or Bushwick already so Peter Pan just happens to be the closest cute donut place to them, and so they overrate Peter Pan's donuts as a form of atonement for their own guilt in gentrifying a large chunk of Brooklyn; begging for absolution through glazed donut consumption.

Except this time the first people are right.

09.03.2020 - by Steve
Gong chaBrooklyn
Bubble tea

This is the year I've gone fully headlong into icy milk-based drinks. Horchata, Thai iced tea, bubble teas of all sorts. If it's got milk and sugar and ice cubes, sign me the heck up. I even made homemade horchata, and it was great! I just didn't take a picture of it, so I'm making this post technically about Gong cha bubble tea.

That's all I really have to say though. Bye.

06.15.2020 - by Steve
HanoiBrooklyn
Noodle salad with pork

In the last couple weeks of this Covid lockdown, I've been enjoying the basic pleasure of eating outside. Not on a restaurant patio (they're still closed, and I've never liked those anyway), not in my backyard (lol) or fire escape (hmm...), but mostly just on random park benches. The street I live on is a big wide parkway that connects Prospect Park all the way down to Coney Island, and is lined with an ungodly number of park benches. Just one after another for about 5 miles. When I first moved here, it was November, so the benches were generally empty, and I almost had to laugh at the sight of them. Like, who's idea was it to invest how many thousands of dollars into what was probably literally 1000 park benches? But when winter ended and the weather improved, I'll be damned if there weren't people all over those benches. Old folks that can't walk too far from home, delivery guys taking a break, teenagers doing teenager things, entire multi-generation families just hanging out on the benches. And now while you can't sit and eat in a restaurant, it's become a minor pleasure to get some food to go from some place near the parkway, take it to a bench, and enjoy a half hour of eating in peace!

That's mostly what I wanted to express in this food post. Which is funny because the bench I ate my Hanoi noodle salad at wasn't even a parkway bench, it was a bench actually up at Prospect Park. But Hanoi is located on kind of the south edge of Park Slope, not just a couple blocks from the park, and I wanted some Vietnamese and I wanted to sit on a bench, so it all came together. I can't imagine you care that much about how the food was. But it was good. A little too sweet as I got to the end of it, but I'd go back.

06.13.2020 - by Steve
SansimianBrooklyn
Jerk chicken

About a mile east of me is Flatbush Avenue, one of the main avenues that spans the entire length of Brooklyn. The point east of here is basically the halfway point of Flatbush, and from this point until about 3/4 point south of here, you will find all the Caribbean food you could ever dream of. Jamaican, Trinidadian, Haitian, Guyanese, Bahamian, Grenadan. All of it.

Sansimian is one of them. Jamaican. They have jerk chicken and oxtail and rice and peas and cabbage and curry and roti and saltfish and everything else. All of it.

Anyway it's real good and like 10 bucks for a big pile of explosively flavored chicken and rice and cabbage. Then you can bike down to Marine Park to sit on a bench and eat it and then go take a nature walk in a salt marsh and get destroyed by mosquitoes except those mosquitoes will combust upon biting you because of the jerk rub and oxtail gravy that's flowing through your system.