05.24.2018
Eleanor Friedberger
Rebound

Good tunes.

05.22.2018
Beach House
7

This new Beach House album has really great cover art. It's printed on a shiny, metallic, somewhat opalescent paper that cuts through the black and white pop art, and is very psychedelic and cool and was probably very expensive for Sub Pop to manufacture. This is also the review of the Beach House album. 7/10.

05.02.2018
Yazan
Hahaha

Weirdo psych blues rock that sounds kinda like Retribution Gospel Choir is Retribution Gospel Choir was a lot funner and a little goofy. To be honest I bought this on a whim, and I keep forgetting about it.

04.16.2018
R.E.M.
Monster

I've been listening to "What's The Frequency Kenneth" endlessly in the last few days. It's a strange choice, I know, but the song has completely hooked itself into me. The proximate blame goes to Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's new podcast "R U Talking R.E.M. Re: Me?", where they talk about R.E.M. for an hour every week, even though they haven't even gotten to Monster yet, and really I don't find their analysis and discussion of the band all that interesting. It's just a fun goofy listen. But what it has done is made me revisit their records with fresher ears, and ultimately that's what's making me think I've grossly underestimated these guys my whole life. They're really fascinating once you lay it all out, almost by being so un fascinating. There are no major peaks and valleys to their career; there's no drama, no grand failed experiments, no major lineup changes. And yet since 1983, these dudes have released so many undeniable hit songs, entirely in their own voice, making (practically) no concessions to fashion or popularity. Every single album (at least until the 21st century, where you can forgive them for being 20 years into their career) has at least one song on it, usually 2 or 3 and sometimes 4, which would be any other band's creative pinnacle, most of which have since entered whatever we can describe as the modern rock/pop canon. It's remarkable.

Even Monster, which at the time perhaps got some criticism for selling out to some grungy, alt-rock zeitgeist, has mostly aged beautifully, and contains at least 2 all time greats. One of which, to take us back to the lede, is "What's The Frequency Kenneth", which, again, was kinda made fun of at the time for being alt rock nonsense. But listen to it! It's great! It's an undeniable jam. And even though they might've distorted the guitar a little more than previous albums, it is anything but a grunge cash in. It's pure and beautiful and perfect. And lucky for all of us, you can find dozens of copies Monster for $2 or less at every used record store and thrift shop in the country.

04.15.2018
Hop Along
Bark Your Head Off

I wish this rocked more.

04.04.2018
Daphne & Celeste
Daphne & Celeste Save The World

Okay, the title up there says "Daphne & Celeste Save The World," which is technically true, albeit probably meaningless to anyone reading this right now. But in reality, this is really a Max Tundra album, his first in a decade. Whu-whu-whaaat? Let me explain, because it's bizarre!

Backstory #1 is that Daphne & Celeste were a thoroughly disposable teen pop duo in England back in 2000, who had one or two earworm bubblegum pop hits that apparently had no traction in the US, but drove the Brits completely crazy. Like "Barbie Girl" and "Crazy Frog" levels of crazy. There's a famous story about them playing at some festival and basically having shit thrown at them from the crowd to get off the stage. Backstory #2, is that Max Tundra is this insane genius electronic experimentalist with a knack for undeniable pop melodicism and a cheeky sense of humor, who spends years and years completely out of the public eye, seemingly too clever for his own well being, crafting his music like one of those guys who carves photorealistic landscapes on thousands of grains of rice. It's been 10 years since the last Max Tundra album, Parallax Error Beheads You, and I basically assumed he was dead.

But what happened is he was actually writing and recording his new album. Except instead of a Max Tundra album, it's a Daphne & Celeste album??? Listening to this record, there is no confusion about who's music this is. This is Max Tundra through and through, from the batshit cut up production, to the melodic signatures, to the fact that there is at least one love song to a synthesizer. No, not recorded with a synthesizer, but about a synthesizer. Did I mention Max Tundra is the best? Anyway, while his own voice is nowhere to be heard, Daphne & Celeste do just fine taking his place, and give the whole album a surreal feel of a bubblegum pop album completely out of time, frankensteined together almost as a joke, but way too comprehensive and smart to actually be a joke. I don't know how this project came together, how Tundra convinced Daphne & Celeste to jump off a cliff with him, but holy hell is it weird and fascinating and a complete joy.

04.03.2018
Mount Eerie
Now Only

The last Mount Eerie album was a towering masterpiece of grief and honesty and poetry, born out real life death and mourning, completely uncritiqueable and undeniably perfect. Now Only feels like a lesser, lighter follow up to that one, even though it is also all of those things. But it couldn't really be anything else, and that's okay. RIYL: crying.

04.02.2018
4th Curtis
I Won the Pageant

Holy cow, it's a local band that's actually good and actually excites me! 4th Curtis—not to be confused with Cowboy Curtis—plays totally solid 90's alt-rock-inspired indie pop on Girlpool-Trust Fund-Frankie Cosmos spectrum. I saw them performing randomly at halftime of a roller derby event, expected absolutely nothing of them, and after just a couple songs was totally sold. They're good! Good songs! Good music! Cool!

04.02.2018
Augie March
Bootikins

Once again, as is standard practice with me and this band over the last decade, Augie March has released an album completely under the radar. These guys basically don't exist outside Australia at this point, so any announcement of new music was probably contained in the southern hemisphere. But as also is standard practice with Augie March, this album is skillfully constructed and thoroughly enjoyable.

04.02.2018
Screaming Females
All At Once

It's always a funny criticism to levy, but I think I'd like this album a lot more if it was half the length that it is. 15 tracks! Who needs 15 tracks in 2018? Gimme your best 8 rockers, cut out all the oddball dirges and half-electro experiments, and we've got another winner on our hands. Not a Rose Mountain level winner, but good shit nonetheless. But as it stands, it's a good album with some skippable tracks, and some more hummable leanings than their previous albums—a couple downright radio-ready tracks, if rock radio was still a thing. It's good. They're good.

03.19.2018
The Decemberists
I'll Be Your Girl

I was going to say this is the worst Decemberists album, but then I remembered Hazards of Love exists, so I'm not very sure anymore.

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

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.


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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).