10.29.2019
Big Thief
Two Hands

Big Thief took over the world this year, and I'm totally fine with that. There's probably a good chance someone has tried to sell them on you, or that you're already fully sold (more likely), so instead of going down the bullet points of why Big Thief rules, just do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIcVwH47uxQ

10.29.2019
Young Guv
Guv II

Surprise, it's a new Young Guv album! Guv I came out of nowhere onto my radar, and I love it, dreamy jangly power pop at its finest, "There She Goes"-as-genre. Top 5 of the year for sure. So now Guv II comes out of nowhere, and it's also good but not as good but still good but not gonna be Top 5.

10.11.2019
Wilco
Ode to Joy

If Wilco The Album and The Whole Love and Star Wars and Schmilco never happened, and Ode to Joy was the follow up to Sky Blue Sky, I'd probably be confused and disappointed by it. But it would at least make sense. But those other albums did of course happen, and they've all left me in varying states of frustration and ambivalence, be it from Album and Love's lack of new ideas and general dispassion, or Star Wars and Schmilco's stubborn dryness. But Ode to Joy finally feels right. None of its individual songs—"Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" perhaps excluded—are nearly to the level of their catalog leading up to this 'frustration and ambivalence' era, but the album as a whole is refreshingly engaging. It contains little mysteries which I don't even know are there until they've hooked me, and it keeps inviting me back, and I'm happy to oblige. But most refreshing of all is that like every great Wilco album (which, again, is basically all of them up until those other ones), this feels like its own world. It has its own palette and speaks its own language. Yeah it kinda borrows some sounds from Star Wars and Schmilco, but it actually does something with them. Even the album cover works.

10.10.2019
Opeth
In Cauda Venunum

Jag vet inte vad "In cauda venenum" betyder på svenska, men jag antar att det är något som "minskar avkastningen."

10.05.2019
Sandro Perri
Soft Landing

Sandro Perri plays 20 minute soft rock mantras which land somewhere between Brian Eno and Pat Metheny, and I promise that's a good thing.

09.23.2019
Jay Som
Anak Ko

A cool and welcome trend in young new indie rock bands in the last year or two is the noticeable influence of dreamy early-mid 90s groups like the Sundays, the La's, the Cocteau Twins, and the Cranberries. The new Young Guv album, just a few posts down from here, is one of my favorite albums of the year, and it's basically an example of "There She Goes" as genre.

The influence is welcome, because while those bands certainly traded in a mood (serene) and a style (jangly), they were also resolutely melodic. They've got songs.

Jay Som has one song. On this album at least. "Superbike" rules. Depending on what angle your head is tilted, it could be a Sundays song, or a Cranberries song, or a La's song. Serene, check, jangly, check, resolutely melodic, double check. Nothing else here really stacks up, and on about half he tracks they seem to be aiming for something else entirely, which, fine, but we all know what's up. It's right there. How do you record "Superbike" and not say "Oh shit, this is it"? Then again, the La's recorded "There She Goes" and then disappeared entirely.

09.10.2019
Tool
Fear Inoculum

The thought of sitting at my keyboard and typing out my thoughts about this album is fucking exhausting.

08.22.2019
Young Guv
Guv I

The original selling point with me and Young Guv was that it's the side project of Ben Cook, the main guitarist from Fucked Up. One of the main selling points of Fucked Up, of course, is that underneath the throat-destroying hardcore vocals is a bunch of super layered, pan-genre, too-pretty-for-hardcore guitar work. So the idea of hearing what Cook has up his sleeve for his own non-hardcore project, even one with as dumb of a name as Young Guv, is enticing.

So Fucked Up got me into the door, but what happened next is that I can't stop listening to this dang thing. I've already thrown away any association I have with that other band, and am enjoying this record on repeat (seriously, I listened to it about 6 times in the first couple days) solely as one of the best power pop albums I've heard in a long time. I'm sure every review of it out there has used the word "jangly," but that's only because thing thing is jangly as fuck! So yeah, Cook knows how to layer a guitar or two, but he can also write a hell of a melody. and I cannot get enough of it. Kind of like Nude Beach a few years ago, it's just an album that hooks into you, feeling like you've been hearing these songs for years, even though you don't remember where they came from.

Fucked Up? More like Thumbs Up!

08.09.2019
Elder
The Gold & Silver Sessions

Elder rules and this is a quick one-off instrumental EP they did where they just kinda jam for a while and Elder rules.

08.05.2019
Miracle Legion
Surprise Surprise Surprise

You probably remember—fondly, I assume—The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You probably fondly remember the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You might not necessarily remember that the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete was called "Hey Sandy," and was by a band called Polaris. (Side note: If you were me, you probably spent almost 20 years thinking that Polaris was a local Minneapolis band, because you confused them with an actual Minneapolis band called Polera. But you aren't me). You might, after fondly remembering all of these things, go and look into Polaris's other music, but you'll find very little. But the one important thing you will find is Miracle Legion.

Polaris wasn't really a band; it was a one-off side project made up of a couple members of Miracle Legion, a New Haven based indie rock band which had released a couple college rock radio hits in the mid and late 80s and gathered a respectable regional following, as well as more than a few comparisons to their mid-late-80s indie rock peers R.E.M. In the mid 90s, when the makers of Pete and Pete—two of those devoted regional fans—wanted to get Miracle Legion to write and perform the theme song to the show, they discovered that they were just a bit too late; the band was basically on the verge of breaking up. Instead, Mark Mulcahy and the one or two other members that didn't currently hate each other got together under the name Polaris to record for the show.

The rest is history I guess. Except that Polaris never gained a following or recorded any other albums, and hordes of Nickelodeon fans didn't exactly flood record stores to pick up any Miracle Legion albums. But I did. 20 years later at least. And I'm absolutely delighted. Miracle Legion's discography is a secret cache of beautifully sentimental indie pop, sitting there unspoiled waiting for us. I'm probably more primed for this type of music than I might've been in previous years thanks to my recentish deep dive into R.E.M., because, yes, the old complaint is that they do sort of sound like R.E.M. But also not; Mulcahy's voice and vocalizations and lyricism immediately stands apart (not saying it's better, just apart) from Stipe's, even if some of the jangly, arpeggiating, clean electric guitar sounds and slightly wet straightforward drumming might, sure, come off a little Athens. But I've already wasted too much text talking about the comparison.

I've liked what I've heard from their few other albums, but I absolutely love Surprise Surprise Surprise. It's not the catchiest thing you've ever heard—I couldn't even hum you any of its melodies right now if I tried—but the mood and depth and sheer competency of the whole thing is a breath of fresh air. It's adult music. Maybe that speaks to how they never 'made it,' because there's no easy takeaways here for teenagers of the time to latch on to (as they did with that other band that keeps coming up), no obvious hit singles, nothing really in particular that would make them stand out. But hearing it now, at this age, it's clearly a special record, an honest record, and one that is giving me a singular sensation of feeling like it's been missing from my life until now. I mean, that sounds pretty dramatic I guess, but it's true.

I have a whole other paragraph to write about the serendipity of finding Surprise Surprise Surprise on vinyl at Academy Records the other week, but this post is so dang long already I'll not bore you with that. Just, hey, Miracle Temple is a miracle. That's not a pun.

07.29.2019
Joanna Sternberg
Then I Try Some More

Then I Try Some More initially excited me. It's a folk album that actually sounds like folk, not just some quiet singing over some guitary strums. It has real melodies, sing songy in the way that Woody Guthry and Burl Ives were, these trusty prehistoric song structures that have been sitting around waiting to get used again. Sure, she sings a shit lot like the other Joanna, and occasionally even maybe borrows a melodic line now and then, but that's okay because the other Joanna was just borrowing it from Joni Mitchell anyway, kind of a white elephant thing.

The problem is that these songs are bummers. There's a dark pessimism, bordering on depression, in just about every song here—but not the tortured-poet Elliott Smith kind of pessimism that makes you dream about being in a punk in LA or something. This is more of a "I'm young and the world sucks and nobody around me understands the real pain I'm in" kind. Just look at that album title. I'm not complaining that it's some phony, put-on pain to write songs, you can feel the real tendrils of sadness here. It's all too real. Even her singing voice sounds like a scared person holding back tears. And my 2nd or 3rd time through the album, I just hit the wall. I can't do it anymore. Joanna Sternberg is going to break through whatever darkness helped create this album, and I'll be there to listen to it. But for now I'm going to put it on the shelf with A Crow Looked At Me and feel okay with not basking in someone else's pain.

07.25.2019
Nilufer Yanya
Miss Universe

Nilufer Yanya, along with Mitski and American Pleasure Club, sounds to me to be the fully formed identity of what guitar based music of the post-millennial, fully-online 21st century youth sounds like. They've grown up with the monogenre, plugged in to any and all music whenever they want, hyper produced pop and rap ruling the airwaves (whatever that might mean anymore), seeing Kanye, Gaga, Beyonce, BTS, and a very old Rivers Cuomo as the biggest rock stars in the world, probably embarrassed that they used to be into Imagine Dragons and Maroon 5 when they were younger, and eventually having their minds blown and eyes opened by, seemingly, St. Vincent. It's a youth that's basically foreign to me, but it's interesting to hear how it's been filtered through their music. Live and programmed drums are interchangeable; guitars are processed to the point of sounding like synths; synths are processed to the point of sounding like guitars; the singing is far more indebted to modern R&B coyness than balls-out rock wailing; some songs rock, some songs pop, and they're trying very hard to sound like they're not really trying (so I guess things haven't really changed since my youth).

This Nilufer Yanya album, specifically, blurs all the lines. I'm actually a little bummed by that, because a couple songs in the front half of the album (particularly "In Your Head") are totally solid rock songs that are unafraid of melody and hooks in a way that a lot of 90s and 00s rock were certainly not. But it seems the second side of the record loses interest in guitars and drums and just throws a bunch of synthy pop jams at the wall, and suffers for it. Still, there's something pure and "new" about what Yanya (and Mitski and APC) is doing, and it officially makes me old.

07.07.2019
Black Midi
Schlagenheim

Black Midi (or, if you're following their their own style guide, black midi) appeared in England this year, as English bands occasionally do, surrounded by some of the most hyperbolic praise you've ever heard, fully mysterious, mercurial, seemingly ready to redefine the very nature of guitar-based Western music as we know it. But this was only coming from people who'd seem them at one of their many infamous live shows at random London clubs over the course of the year; they had recorded nothing so there was no other way to judge.

Then they released a couple songs, and it was like, "Oh shit. This might be for real."

Then they released a few more, played some American shows (in Minneapolis of all places!), and did a full performance filmed for KEXP, and the mystery wasn't quite as mysterious anymore. But they were clearly still very talented and just bathed in potential.

Then they released their debut LP Schlagenheim, and all the hype and potential and insanity has turned into something far more simple: Black Midi is a very good mathy post-hardcore band. They don't sound like nothing we've ever heard before; they sound like Battles, they sound like Shellac, they sound like At the Drive In, they sound like Hella. But! They sound like Black Midi too. And they sound very very good. The other thing about this group is that they're all babies—teenagers when they started, they're all 20 or 21 now—but they sound like they've been playing with each other for a decade. Absolutely tight, absolutely slotted.

There is some "jazz" in their music, in that they're listening to one another and I'm sure there's improvisation at work, even though I'd not want to push that angle too far. They're just 4 fucking talented instrumentalists totally locked in and not afraid to make weird, heavy music in 2019. No, they're not changing the game or redefining the meaning of music in the 21st century, but they're running laps around a lot of the other bands who tried to do what they're doing 10 years ago, when it was a cooler thing to do. So shit, I'll allow them some hype for that.

This time next year they'll be broken up. I'm sure of it.

09.06.2019 - by Steve
Esker GroveDowntown Minneapolis
Chicken

Esker Grove is one of the highest rated new restaurants in Minneapolis, but we had a very odd experience there. Weird service, slow service, a drastic and constant gust of wind coming through the propped-open patio door, the general feeling that something was off. And my chicken wasn't that great. But that's on me for ordering chicken at a fancy restaurant. Never do that.

04.15.2018 - by Steve
Spoon and StableDowntown Minneapolis
Duck breast laab

My previous trip to the hottest newest bestest restaurant in the North Loop, Spoon and Stable, happened a year and a half ago on my birthday, when I sat by myself at the bar and ate as much food as I could afford. I went in skeptical but left impressed. But I went no further than 10 feet from the front door to the bar. This time was entirely different; a Sunday morning brunch with some out of town visitors, I saw that the restaurant is a good bit smaller than I first thought it was, and actually has some lovely natural light from the ceiling, and all in all isn't quite as annoying as I might have thought it was. I mean, it's still all white-tile-and-natural-wood-edison-bulb-in-industrial-lighting, leather-apron'd-barkeeps and denim-uniformed-server Pinterest-chic, but it's not that bad. What was bad, regretfully, was my food. The brunch menu was fairly diverse as these things go, and I ordered a duck breast laab salad with crispy wild rice and a duck egg. It just didn't work. The duck was tough, the wild rice was soft, and the whole thing was way, way too salty. Whatever flavors were in there were just overwhelmed by soy sauce or fish sauce or whatever they had in there. Meanwhile, nothing else I tasted between everyone else at my table was much better. And to be honest I don't really remember what those dishes were. The only great takeaway from the entire meal was the small plate of hash browns that they brought the table (every brunch spot should do this!), which were satisfyingly crispy, and were infused with a sort of garlicky oniony oil. They were great. Everything else was a big bummer. So while I still think I stand by Spoon and Stable based on my great birthday dinner, I'll go ahead and recommend you skip brunch.

04.21.2017 - by Steve
ByteDowntown Minneapolis
Black vinegar pork bowl

Byte (get it!?) is a new counter-service eatery and bar downtown who's tagline promises some sort of nerdy, techy something or other. "Eat Drink Geek," it says. Well I did notice the table numbers had drawings of superheroes on them (we got Green Lantern), but beyond that I'm stumped. More importantly though, is the food, a which reminds me quite a bit of World Street Kitchen in its worldly-yet-ethnically-agnostic mix of bowls and burritos and salads. I got the black vinegar pork bowl, which I think was Korean, or at least Korean-inspired, but hey it was really good! It had some nice pickled veggies in there, and some cashews on there, and bok choy (so maybe it was Chinese?) and the rice was good, and it was actually more than I could finish in a single sitting! Thanks Byte! So hey, I like this place! It's bright and chill and tasty, and I guess there's a bar in back, so maybe there's some arcade games back there or something? Or maybe some tech startup offices? We'll never know.

12.06.2016 - by Steve
Spoon & StableDowntown Minneapolis
Grilled venison, beet cured trout, goat goulash

The cycle continues, and Spoon & Stable is now the "best" restaurant in the city, which mostly means it's the newest restaurant in the city to charge premium prices for premium food in a premium setting filled with premium people, and all of your Facebook friends talk about going there like it's no big deal because they just like good things, so of course they love it, duh, and oh, you've probably been there too because it's the best restaurant in the city, and you need your friends to know that you're good too. So Spoon & Stable. What does that even mean, spoon and stable? Are we eating horse soup? This getting away from me, I'm going to regroup...

So I went to Spoon & Stable by myself on my birthday, because I deserve it. I think? It's been a long time since I've been to a "good" restaurant, and I didn't have any other plans, so I just said Screw It, I'm gonna go and sit at the bar throw down 100 bucks on a ridiculous dinner. Usually in these cases I'd try my best to be careful and thoughtful about my choices, or maybe I'd actually be there with another human to be able to split and try things. But nah, I just went for it. Here's the rundown: Beet-cured trout, served kinda like lox, with some citrus and beets and other assorted nibbles... Grilled venison with malted jus and some kinda puree over a big fat celery root... Goat goulash pasta. The food itself (not the surroundings) reminded me of the 112. Favorably even! Which was a pleasant surprise; the cynic in me half expected to hate it, given its bound-to-come-back-down-to-earth-in-time reputation. But nah, it was good. In fact, the venison was one of the best dishes I've had anywhere in a long time. It's one of those entrees that you've had a dozen times before—quality piece of meat atop some starchy puree with some deglazed pan sauce and a some greens—but this was pretty much flawless. Every bite of the meat was lean and perfect, and the sauce had a deep rich body that came as a surprise. If I had any gripes (other than the fact that I don't love celery, so the celery root wasn't exactly my favorite), it's that the whole dish was so richly savory that it needed an extra stab of something else. Some little sweet or vinegary burst somewhere. But really it was fantastic. The beet trout, I won't blab much about, because I don't have much to say about it. It had that deconstructed Travail sort of vibe, without the Travail surprises. But it was fine. So then after ate those, I tallied the damage and decided that I'd be wasting a birthday dinner if I didn't get one more dish. Which of course was the goat goulash, because of course I'm going to order the goat goulash. If I'd never been to the 112 or La Grassa before (or the late lamented JP's) I would've sworn this was an incredible plate of food. But in truth it just made me wish I was eating the comparable—and slightly better—pastas at 112 and La Grassa. But whatever. It was still delicious!

Oh, and I also made the mistake (?) of mentioning to the bartender that it was my birthday. Because as I was paying up, he brought me an embarrassingly large ball of cotton candy. It was the Uptown Cafeteria Pork Rind Incident all over again. Everybody stared at me. People commented under their breath. I literally died. But I also shared some with the rest of the bar, so I guess I made some friends. And isn't that what it's all about? No?


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03.25.2016 - by Steve
Il ForoDowntown Minneapolis
Steak, meatballs, vodka sauce pasta

This doesn't really count as a real Food review, because I was just at Il Foro for an event that had a buffet-style meal. So it's not like I sat down with a menu and chose an entree and saw the prices and this and that. But given that, I can say I was quite happy with the food I ate, and surprised at its very traditional Italian appeal. This isn't, like, a modern Italian kitchen or some nonsense (see: Monello), it was meatballs in a hearty red sauce, some sort of elbowed hollow rigatoni-like pasta in a creamy vodka sauce, and a fairly traditional—but absolutely perfectly prepared—steak at a carving station, with horseradish. I guess it would be really expensive if I was actually paying for it, but I wasn't. Really though, nobody's going to this place for the food. It's all about the interior, which is a lovingly restored art deco era interior. It's fancy. But like, legit fancy. Very fun. I'll never eat there again.

09.22.2015 - by Steve
Naf Naf GrillDowntown Minneapolis
Chicken shawarma

It's hard to get too excited about new "good" fast food chains when places like Smashburger and Rusty Taco and Which Which (gross) consistently tend to underwhelm upon their big splashy entry into the cities. Even more so when the new restaurant can so quickly be described as "Chipotle for _____." Chipotle for pizza. Chipotle for sushi. Chipotle for mac and cheese. Or that guy who won the NBC reality show and started a Chipotle for soul food in the Mall of America which shut down within 2 months, leaving this guy and his newly uprooted family to fend for themselves in Minneapolis. But that has zero to do with this. This, in fact, is about Naf Naf Grill, the brand new Chipotle for shawarma joint that just opened downtown after hitting it big in Chicago. And this, also, is where I totally eat my hat. Because, the thing is, Naf Naf is the real deal!. I say that as a lover of shawarma. And a guy with a food blog. So you can trust me. But as much as I love and appreciate places like Shish and Aida and the random bodega-style deli, Naf Naf has managed to out-shawarma them. I'm so sorry. I want those little guys to win, but the Chicago chain beat them fair and square. This shit is delicious, and it's so much more than meat and rice on a pita. They've got pickled stuff. They've got oniony salad stuff. They've got sauces that the employees could barely pronounce. It's honestly the best shawarma sandwich I've had since the Oasis of Williamsburg on my trip to Brooklyn a few years ago (yes, I'm rolling my eyes too). That was actually the closest analogue I can find to Naf Naf, with some of the same types of fixings that nobody else in Minneapolis seems to bother with. Top it all off with the fact that they bake all their pita bread in house, and that the shawarma itself was juicy and tender and flavorful, I can't wait for these guys to open up more stores. And three years from now, when you hear me complaining about how there are Naf Nafs opening everywhere, slap me in the face and make me read this review again.

11.23.2014 - by Steve
Hen HouseDowntown Minneapolis
Biscuits and gravy

I wanted to make this post a eulogy for Peter's Grill, Minneapolis' only truly historic diner, which shut down and is now Hen House. However, that would have been disingenuous, because I only ever at at Peter's once, and felt the food was truly uninspiring, no matter how historic it was. So as much as I hate that it closed, I was part of the problem. But now we have Hen House, which at least kept a lot of Peter's cool old style booths and counter. They also kept Peter's uninspiring food. It's really just standard, slightly-better-than-Perkins breakfast food. You could get the exact same quality of meal literally two blocks away at Key's (where, I was not surprised to learn, Hen House's ownership began their food careers). That space deserves better.

11.23.2014 - by Steve
Runyon'sDowntown Minneapolis
Cheeseburger

In the words of Iowa's own Andrew Voss: "The great thing about Runyon's is..." And, well, I don't remember the rest of what he said. But he was right. There's a great thing about Runyon's, but it's so inconspicuous as to be practically invisible in downtown's obnoxious bar scene. But Runyon's is just a humble little (not quite) dive bar, with a humble little menu of a few burgers and some wings and fries and beer. As far as greasy bar burgers go, theirs is one of the better one's I've had in town, especially with the horseradish cheddar cheese. The fries aren't hand cut, but they were perfectly fried. The wings were... wings. But if 'm ever looking for a quick bite downtown, you can bet your ass I'll be going back here instead of battling all the other nonsense down the street.

10.08.2014 - by Steve
The Third BirdDowntown Minneapolis
Bison burger

Hey, not bad!

10.08.2014 - by Steve
The Corner BarDowntown Minneapolis
Chicken sandwich

Well apparently "I don't care" is a flavoring agent, and the Corner Bar puts a dash of it in everything. I don't think I've ever been less satisfied with a meal that totaled over $20.

06.25.2014 - by Steve
Butcher & the BoarDowntown Minneapolis
Texas beef link

Okay. I've been to Butcher & the Boar now, are you happy? Am I credible enough to continue to maintain a food related weblog now? Here's my hot take: Look, it was good. It was a spicy beef link with spicy pepper sauce and some slaw. For what it was, I don't know if it could have been any better. And for $12, I feel like was worth it. Great, awesome. But considering it was Tuesday night and you needed reservations not to get stuck at the bar, and every table in the place was taken up by a group of dress-shirt-tucked-in, silver-fox-hair-cropped-conservatively, expense-account-sucking business travelers who had clearly just walked there from their hotels by the convention center because they read about it in New York Times Travel & Leisure, and B&tB can go ahead and charge whatever they want for everything on the menu because this clientele of theirs isn't actually spending their own money, I don't know if they really need me back any time soon. So I won't bother.

05.03.2014 - by Steve
Target FieldDowntown Minneapolis
Butcher and the Boar rib tips

I'm not cool (read: "rich" [read: "cool"]) enough to have actually gone to the Butcher and the Boar yet. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I feel terrible about it and I'm trying my best to remedy the issue. But in the meantime, this year they've got a stand at Target Field serving rib tips. And they're great! I dare say, despite the $12 price tag (which is actually reasonable to me, considering the quality and quantity), they've actually supplanted the Loon chili and the Cuban sandwich and the big cheese filled meatball as the Best Food In Target Field. Just bring some dental floss to the game with you. Seriously.


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04.03.2014 - by Steve
Copper PotDowntown Minneapolis
Indian Buffet

It's no Gandhi Mahal, but I'll go ahead and say the Copper Pot is a welcome addition to downtown, particularly to the 5th and Hennepin area, which otherwise is nothing but gross pizza slices and roofie bars. I can only speak for this one lunch buffet however, not their menu in general, which might affect my feelings about it. The flavors were all nice–-dynamic, but not very spicy--but all of the buffet options seemed a little picked over; lots of sauce, but not a lot of heft. And the chunks of chicken that were available were a minefield of bones. Still, it was quality. Give it a shot before it turns into a burrito place and then a pizza place and then another pizza place and then an Indian place.

04.03.2014 - by Steve
Mason'sDowntown Minneapolis
Burger

I almost forgot to write about this new downtown spot, Mason's*. Basically, don't worry about it. You're not missing anything if you never give it a second thought beyond reading this post. You don't need it, and it doesn't need you. If anything, I guess, if you really want a burger, it might be a step above Gluek's, and a step blow Ike's, and less of a headache than Hell's Kitchen. And their burgers are from Wisconsin beef producers. So that's something. But, really, don't worry about it. Forget I even brought it up.

* The actual name of this restaurant is Mason's Restaurant Barre. Really. They spell it with two R's and an E. I'll leave that here as a warning.