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?


(1)
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.

07.28.2017
Cornelius
Mellow Waves

The first half of Mellow Waves is Album Of The Year good. It takes everything you loved about Cornelius and melts it down into perfectly composed prog-pop that could only have been created by this one guy. It's a dang joy. The second half, as you probably guessed, sort of comes down from that high. It's not bad at all, but you want it to kick into some newer crazier gear, but instead it just chills out and slowly fades off. Which is fine. But I just feel like this could have been an all time great album. Instead it's merely very, mind-blowingly, frustratingly amazing.

07.22.2017
Sly and the Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin On

Holy shit this is a good record. I'm a little mad that I've never bothered with it before. It's basically the fundamental blueprint of all the best neo-soul and Dilla/Shadow/Kanye hip hop beats that came a couple decades later. It should be played at all parties. Mandatory.

07.17.2017
MIKE
May God Bless Your Hustle

MIKE is a teenager from Queens who I assume is named Mike, and he raps. I can't really pinpoint anything particular about his voice style, he doesn't have any particularly memorable lines to quote back to you, and nothing about his beats or hooks are hummable. But from the standpoint of artistry and honesty, May God Bless Your Hustle feels great. The beats, produced apparently mostly by MIKE and some character named Sixpress, land somewhere in the Madlib/Shadow sphere of rough, analog, introspective hip hop, without worrying too much about old school boom bap or modern day trap bullshit. The whole album just flows, with MIKE's vocals often pushed so high in the mix that his verses sound like late night audio confessionals rather than attempts at stardom. And even if his style isn't exactly flashy or unique, it works through pure honesty and thoughtfulness. Basically, this is a dude I want to root for over the next few years, hoping that he doesn't get caught up in the seemingly bottomless hip hop hype machine that turns every young Bandcamp and SoundCloud rapper into an overexposed sellout.

07.16.2017
Girlpool
Powerplant

Girlpool's first album was a surprise favorite of mine in 2105. It had this rough, tossed off vibe, sounding like two girls who decided to record an album together at the same time that they're just learning to play guitar, yet totally unafraid to just go for it, arranging their perfectly written songs to fit within the constraints of their limited chops, belting every melody in catchy 2-part harmonies, and not giving a damn that they don't know any drummers.

This new one, then, disappointed me at first. It sounds like a band. A band that knows what they're doing. With a quality set of distortion pedals and a drummer who probably teaches lessons on weekends. "And this is a bad thing?" Well, considering the charm of the first Girlpool album, yeah. The rough edges are generally gone, and their vocals have gone from joyous bellows to more generic breathy indie whispers. And yet. And yet it grew on me very quick. The songs and melodies are still fantastic, and their trademark 2-part harmonies are still everywhere. And the drummer kicks ass and it basically rocks. It was a quick turnaround from "Ugh, Girlpool just ruined their sound" to "Top ten of the year" in my book.


(1)
09.19.2017 - by Steve
Pequod'sChicago
Deep dish sausage pizza

Since a polish and cheese fries and lime Oreo shake weren't quite enough, and since it's been a solid 7 or 8 years since I've last had "real" Chicago style pizza, we went for a legit bang bang, and ventured down to Pequod's, the former punk-rock bar in Lincoln Park that some of the more in-touch locals (and Anthony Bourdain, for what it's worth) would happily tell you is the best deep dish in town, better than that slop they serve you at Gino's East and Lou Malnatti's, and, god forbid, Giordano's. I wouldn't disagree with them necessarily, but in fairness it's been years and years since I've had Gino's, I don't think I've ever had Lou's. But yes, Giordano's is trash. But Pequod's, hell, I have have no complaints! It was a damn good pie! So, sure! Trust those who know. And just order a small. You'll be fine.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Susie's Drive ThruChicago
Polish, Green River Oreo shake

Stop #2 on my one-day whirlwind trip to Chicago: Susie's Drive Thru. This is some Chicago insider shit, you guys. You won't find it on lists, you won't find it in your local alt-weekly, you won't see it on the Food Network. But it's what dreams are made of. One of those tiny little corner joints way out in the boonies of Chicago, far enough away from the train that the cool kids will never make it there, with a menu that somehow has about 120 items on it, all of which are terrible for your health, but great for everything else, and at least 60 of which are probably delicious. I can personally vouch for the Maxwell polish and the Chicago dog and the cheese fries. But the main attraction here is some real batshit nonesense: The Green River Oreo shake. Green River, see, is some little midwestern-based citrus soda—think a slightly more limey Sprite. The Green River Oreo shake, then, is a shake with Green River and Oreos in it. The idea of mixing Oreos with limey citrus pop doesn't immediately sound too appealing. But let me tell you, it works. God knows how, but it works. Susie's isn't going to franchise any time soon, and I couldn't even tell you how to get there if you're ever in Chicago (do they even have a website or Yelp listing?), but if you happen to get lost and look up and see its glorious neon trim, do it.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Jaimito'sChicago
Al pastor taco

Jaimito's is one of hundreds of neighborhood taco joints in Chicago, so this isn't me trying to rank it or compare to any of the others. This just just me saying, "Hey, I was in Chicago and I was hungry so I popped in to this place called Jaimito's and got a taco. It was pretty good, and even though it was a traditional style taco place, they also put lettuce and shredded cheese on the taco, and I'm totally okay with that because it tasted good."

04.01.2015 - by Steve
Bang Bang Pie & BiscuitsChicago
Malted chocolate pie

So here's Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, a cool homey little nook of a cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, that makes, yes, pie and biscuits. It's a totally righteous little spot; cool but not annoying-cool, a clearly focused menu that's small but not too small. But mostly it's got delicious pie. I got the malted chocolate, which was sort of like a french silk (my favorite thing in the world), but had a thick, almost torte-like texture, on a graham cracker crust. Guess what? It was great. Not too rich, not too malty. It was a subtle malt, not like a goddamn Whopper or something. I tried to go back the next morning to get a breakfast biscuit, but it was a Saturday morning, and every cool mom in the city was lined up down the block for brunch. I hightailed it out of there. Next time, maybe.


(1)
04.01.2015 - by Steve
Al's BeefChicago
Italian beef

Al's Beef isn't a quality establishment. It isn't grass fed beef and locally-pickled peppers on home-baked buns dipped in craft-ale au jus. It's garbage food for drunk people to eat at 1 in the morning, for construction workers to stuff in their gullet on their lunch break. It's a Chicago chain that has probably seen better days, and isn't necessarily universally beloved. But their garbage sandwich was so, so, so tasty at midnight after a day of endless walking. I loved every bite of it. Possibly the most satisfying thing I ate in Chicago.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Do-Rite DonutsChicago
Lemon pistachio donut

I think beyond being "trendy," good quality donut shops are in for the long haul. Because donuts are great. They're way better than cupcakes. And while the Twin Cities hasn't quite experienced the full-on renaissance yet (close, though), it seems Chicago is well into it. I basically picked Do-Rite by closing my eyes and putting my finger down on a map. And I wasn't disappointed. Just look at that donut up there. Doesn't it look tasty? It was. And there's probably a twenty other equally good donut shops in that city. I am not complaining.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Green Street Smoked MeatsChicago
Chopped brisket sandwich

Surprisingly affordable barbecue in a super cool "hidden" warehouse space in between a bunch of much more exclusive restaurants for much more exclusive people. There's definitely a regrettable sense of trying-too-hard-to-make-it-look-like-you're-not-trying-hard at Green Street Smoked Meats (like, just call it "barbecue, man!"), but they pull it off. This is a cool place, with great, but not epiphany-inducing, barbecue and interesting sides. It's cheap for what you get, the service is fast, and the seating is plentiful. My only complaint is I should have ordered the sliced brisket rather than the chopped. The chopped tasted a little like it had been sitting in a pot for too long, rather than the fresh cut juiciness that the slices would've got me. Oh well. Next time!

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Cozy NoodlesChicago
Crispy pad kee mao

Wrigley Field is an American treasure. I love it. Wrigleyville, its surrounding neighborhood, is a nightmare. A Bud-fueled, tramp-tatted, Tapout-shirted, frozen-chicken-wing defrosted dude-bro nightmare. It also hosts the surprisingly hospitable Wrigleyville Hostel, where I decided to stay for my Chicago weekend because I'm a cheapskate with little self respect. But since I at least have some self respect, I skipped all the Wrigleyville sports bars, and instead had dinner at the one place in the entire neighborhood with dignity, Cozy Noodles. It's small and tucked away, and inexplicably decorated with all sorts of retro Americana ephemera, but it serves totally solid Thai food. Their "specialty" is that they do crispy fried noodles in their pad thai and pad kee mao, which ends up being just too crispy for my taste. But otherwise, it's a great place. Don't go out of your way (I'm sure there are plenty of equally good Thai restaurants in Chicago), but if you're stuck in Wrigleyville, you'll have no other choice.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
ArtopolisChicago
Roast lamb leg

I'm currently staying the night in a hostel above a Greek restaurant in the Greektown neighborhood of Chicago. No joke. So I have to have some Greek food for dinner, right? The running joke about Greektown, as far as I could tell from my brief scans through Chowhound, is that all the restaurants in Greektown share the same kitchen. They're all apparently good, but just very similar. And walking down the street here, I really get that vibe. Lots of white table cloths. Lots of blue and white. Lots of logos designed around 1988. The one I chose, Artopolis, is supposedly a newer, fresher take. It actually touts itself as a bakery, and the best comparison I can make is French Meadow. It has both a bakery counter and full dining service. It has a big menu with everything from light sandwiches to full entrees. It has many deserts. And most of all, like French Meadow, I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu and it was... okay. I was expecting a bone-in lamb shank, and got slices. And they were a bit dry. But the sauce, a light tomato and mint based number, was great, as were the roasted vegetables (squash, zucchini, and red pepper? Get original, Artopolis!). I had a desert, as well, a sort of lemon custardy thing inside a phyllo dough shell. It would've been great if it was chilled, but they... microwaved it?. As far as I can tell, they did. So Artopolis did everything they could to ruin my meal, and I probably payed about $5 too much, but I still left satisfied. Now if only this hostel would turn their AC up a bit!

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Lito's EmpanadasChicago
Empanadas

An empanada is a delicious little fried pocket of dough, stuffed with fillings of your choice. "A Hot Pocket?" Yes. But a Columbian Hot Pocket. Everyone really enjoyed theirs, but my personal favorite was filled with ground beef, potatoes, olives, raisins, and dipped in homemade jalapeno, onion, and cilantro salsa. It was our last "meal" (heavy snack, really) in Chicago, and made me want to find a good empanada source in Minneapolis. Or I'll just buy a Hot Pocket and tell the cashier about how much better the real ones are.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
WishboneChicago
Andouille sausage hash

Wishbone is is what Sunny Side Up would be if it wasn't a total dump. Great breakfast food, based on 'southern-style' cooking. Grits, corn muffins, catfish, all that stuff, and my andouille sausage hash was probably the best thing I ate on this trip. I'd wanted to go there the whole weekend, and we finally found some time to do so. Plus, it's only a block away from where Oprah films her show! OMG!

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Chicago DinerChicago
Black bean burger

It's hard to believe that, of all the diners and eateries in Chicago, the one that actually gets to be called "The Chicago Diner" is located in a classic old diner space in a big gay neighborhood and is entirely vegetarian. And yet their menu contains buffalo wings, Philly cheesesteaks, bacon cheeseburgers. Entirely fake meat, yes, but as I recently learned with the fake pork at Evergreen, this can totally work--and it pretty much did. The buffalo "wings" (their usage of quotes, not mine) were weird at first, but then once you realized that the sauce contained no butter (50% of wing sauce, really), and the chicken obviously wasn't chicken, they were pretty tasty, and very spicy. My black bean burger was good, and had a great mustard sauce on it. Everyone else had good to great food, and were all impressed that such a place can even exist. And in a city as ridiculously large as Chicago, it actually does a ton of business.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Eleven City DinerChicago
Chicken Sandwich

This was the second time eating at Eleven City Diner near downtown Chicago, and it was nearly as good as the first. In a place where you need to order corned beef or pastrami or something of that meat family to really get the full experience, I was worried about the potential of a cajun chicken sandwich, but it ended up being a well-above-average cajun chicken (which can often be pretty boring). The bread really made it. Big, fat, soft, and almost french-toast-like. Well worth the 5 hour wait. Or maybe a little less.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
Gino's EastChicago
Deep dish pizza

Because eating a big deep dish pizza is a required activity for anyone who ever visits Chicago, we finally got around to getting to one of the standard deep dish spots (which are, in generally-accepted order of quality: Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, Giordano's). The actual experience of going to the downtown Gino's East was something akin to waiting for the cable guy. You wait and wait and wait, get yanked around and treated like crap, and then you watch hours upon hours of Bravo and think to yourself, "What am I doing?" Then you get the bill. And yet, in the end, you are really glad you got cable. Yeah, that's about right.

03.27.2015 - by Steve
DaoChicago
Stir fried basil and beef

Our first meal on our New Years Chicago trip was at a random Thai place right by our hotel, called Dao. We had to kill 45 minutes to get our room ready (ack...), and just happened upon it while walking away from some of the more ridiculous Miracle Mile mega-restaurants. It wasn't a hole in the wall, by any means, but probably at about one step below a Sawatdee (in size and decor, but certainly not taste). My beef dish was simple, but very tasty, just beef, basil, peppers, and sauce. Libby's chicken curry was above average (and subtly unique). And our potstickers (not Thai, but whatever) were honestly some of the best I've had anywhere. But best of all is that it was surprisingly cheap, considering its location in between Michigan Ave and Navy Pier. And there were cool hole-in-the-ground booths that made it look like you were sitting cross-legged on the floor, without actually having to do so (because that would be totally un-American).