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.


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07.16.2017
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

I'm filing this under "Sufjan Stevens," because it feels like his album, but in reality, Planetarium is a collaboration between Sufjan, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner. That sounds like a perfect combination of collaborators, and an album where each song is about some different celestial object or idea sounds like a perfectly batshit dumb idea for Sufjan to absolutely pull off. And when you hit play, it works. It sounds like a beautiful surprise Sufjan album that basically came out of nowhere, and it's terribly exciting. But then it just keeps going, and nothing much happens. It doesn't build to anything great, no single song stands out from the others. It's just, sort of present. Like a lesserAge of Adz. Which sounds harsh, but I don't know if there's anything on here to even be harsh about. It just doesn't land.

07.16.2017
Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex sound like some beautiful combination of Rhye and Mazzy Star. And if that sounds good to you, I agree. Album-wise, there's not a whole lot different happening from track to track, but whatever, because [re-insert first sentence here].

06.03.2017
Elder
Reflections of a Floating World

I haven't finished listening to this new (fucking killer) Elder record yet, so I can't really form any real thoughts about it (except that it's fucking killer). I just love the album cover so much that I want it on the top of the page. So here it is. Pretty sweet, right?

06.03.2017
Nightlands
I Can Feel The Night Around Me

Remember a few posts down when I accidentally bought the Cameron Avery album thinking it was a different album by a different bass player of a different popular indie band? Well I knew you were wondering, and here it is! The actual album I meant to buy! Nightlands' I Can Feel The Night Around Me! It's pretty good. Lots of (dare I say?) Beach Boys-y harmonies, chill moody washes, just barely funky. It's good enough.

06.03.2017
The Catherine Wheel
Ferment

Back in late high school I decided I should like the Catherine Wheel. I didn't. Then I tried again in college, still no. Once more around the early-oughts, no dice. But recently I woke up in the middle of the night, and could just feel it. "It's time," the voice told me. "You totally like the Catherine Wheel now." So I picked up Ferment, and I do!

06.03.2017
Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

I've always had a hard time appreciating Father John Misty. Which is odd, because he seems to fit right in to the Harry Nilsson / Randy Newman / Benji Hughes singer songwriter continuum that I'm such a sucker for. But this new one finally tipped the scales for me, and I'm totally sold on this thing that he does. I don't know if I'm ever going to just take it out for fun and enjoyment to listen to all that much in the future; this is some very specific, disruptive, thesis-oriented stuff that doesn't necessarily play well at parties. But to sit and listen to Pure Comedy is like reading a good book, or watching a good movie. Glad I did it, who knows if I'll need to revisit it in the future.

04.21.2017
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers put out a new album, and look, it's not too great. It's good and competent like their last 3 or 4, but just doesn't have the highs of their best stuff. But more importantly, I finally managed to see them live! And even more importantly than that, I saw them live with Neko Case on the tour! Dan Bejar wasn't on this tour, but that's okay. To be honest, they all seemed a little bit tired and sleepy, looking a lot like a band that's been doing this for 18 years. But they still played great, they played the hits, and holy crap can Neko Case seriously sing. She's unbelievable. I'd follow her into battle.

04.09.2017
Future Islands
The Far Field

I'm super impressed by Future Islands' ability to stay the course. They easily could've gone the obnoxious route after 2015's "breakthrough", hiring big-name producers (Danger Mouse?) or bringing in bigger sounds (Danger Mouse and an orchestra?) or—mercy—partnering with Young Thug or something. But what they did is make another Future Islands album. And while part of me is curious about what exactly "next level Future Islands" might've sounded like, I'm perfectly happy just taking 12 more songs of Sam Herring—possibly the best voice in all popular music right now—singing over some steely driving indie new wave.


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04.08.2017
Mastodon
Emperor of Sand

Over the last 15 years, every Mastodon album has been something. Remission was the brutal and concise debut. Leviathan was the transformation from concision to confidence. Blood Mountain was the big weird bold step into 'anything goes and we can do it all.' Crack The Skye was the mellowed out prog concept album. The Hunter was an all-out refinement down to songwriting basics. Once More Round the Sun was seemingly an appeal to mainstream popular metal. Things were going so well until those last two. So I was a little nervous for the state of Mastodon leading up to Emperor of Sand... and I'm still a little nervous. I'm really not sure what this album is, how it fits in. If anything, Emperor of Sand is every Mastodon album at once—there's some Remission/Leviathan rage, there's some Blood Mountain weirdness, there's a lot of Skye vocal trading and layering, and there's unfortunately still plenty of Hunter/Once More 3-minute tunes potentially ready for hard rock radio. I don't know what to do with it. Luckily, Mastodon happens to be really, really good. So even if I'm confused by its mission, I still enjoy the hell out of this album.


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04.07.2017
Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

A Crow Looked at Me is such a personal record that I hesitate to even call it a 'record.' I hesitate even more to attempt to write a review of it—or at least I would if I wrote reviews professionally for some critical venue or another. It's probably the best Phil Elverum record since The Glow Pt. 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear people say it's his best work ever, but even that praise feels imprudent. The situation is that is the man's wife died, and he wrote these songs to try to bear it. Some of them are journalistic records of post-loss minutiae, some are memories of the days and months previous, and some are urgent pleas to the universe to make sense of it all. It's all deeply moving and deeply personal, but written beautifully and honestly, prose poetry just barely formed into songs—and it's all written specifically to her, rather than to the listener or some omniscient third party. I'm not using hyperbole when I say that it's somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, as if these are private recordings not meant to be heard by anyone else. But Elverum released it because he wants to share, so I'm okay with it (although, in honesty, I haven't even turned the record to Side B yet. It's just too painful to engage with all in one sitting). Musically it's very pretty, free of nearly all of the instrumental obfuscation that he's practiced over the last decade, generally acoustic guitar and some assorted droning keys and basses. But lyrically, I think there's no question that it's the best work of his career, although again, even raising the question or placing these words in the same canon as his previous work feels entirely beside the point. The whole collection is wonderful, really, and while I'm sure Phil might appreciate hearing that, he almost certainly doesn't care. This isn't a record of music, it's a record of a man who is trying to cope by doing the one thing he knows best how to do: making a record.

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.

04.03.2014 - by Steve
Dancing Ganesha Downtown Minneapolis
Chicken vindaloo, lamb rogan josh

Have any of you ever eaten at this place? Has anybody ever eaten at this place? I can tell you I've biked past it at least a half dozen times, down its hidden little stretch of Harmon Place downtown, with the intention of maybe eating there and watching a ballgame on their bar TV, but they never have the ballgame on their bar TV, and it's always about 90% empty. It's never seemed weird or scary or gross, just, like discounted? All of this, though, makes it the perfect spot to go downtown when you want something other than bar food, and you don't want to fight crowds. And, hey, it's good! A hair expensive maybe. But as far as Indian restaurants go, it's competitive. Better than the cruddy ones, not as good as Gandhi Mahal. I'd say go try it before it shuts down, but it's been open for a number of years now, so something is keeping them in business.

12.09.2013 - by Steve
The King and I ThaiDowntown Minneapolis
34 with Beef

It was a keen plan. One year ago, when our beloved King and I Thai announced it was going out of business, we had dinner there near my birthday for one final hurrah. Not wanting to imagine a world where I could no longer experience a spicy hot plate of 34 with beef, I bought a second order of it, to go. I sealed it nicely in a ziplock bag, sealed that inside some tupperware, and froze it for Future Steve. Well it was Future Steve's birthday last week, and since I hadn't gotten around to it yet, and I felt it's best not to wait more than a year, I decided to celebrate by defrosting and cooking the time capsule as a birthday feast. The verdict? Don't freeze your beef for a full year. It tasted like a dusty furnace.