05.20.2019
Vampire Weekend
Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend's Blonde. But not their Blonde on Blonde. Or is it Blond? That's what the cover says. No, I think it's Blonde.

04.29.2019
Sunn O)))
Life Metal

The guys from Sunn O))) dress like wizards, but Steve Albini actually is one.

04.29.2019
Possible Humans
Everybody Split

Possible Humans are extremely Melbourne in that weirdly specific way that bands from Melbourne are. Dry and jangly and direct and melodic with just a hint of bitterness. The first few songs are great, but then I zone out a little, so I don't know.

04.29.2019
Billy Woods
Hiding Places

Billy Woods isn't the most charismatic, energetic, transformative, convivial, melodic, magnetic, revolutionary, or even entertaining rapper, but he writes like a damn Pulitzer winner. Three brief excerpts:

But the sun crept,
diggin' at that empty house as the shadow stretched
The dog ran off, didn't come back yet

Overseas connection choppy, she's gettin' worse
Your sister talked to the nurse, everybody in church
Everybody wants to know if you comin'
But they won't say the words

I don’t wanna go see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

These are just three kinda random pulls, but every song on this album plays out with the tension and release of a very good short story. And not in like a "um actually rappers are really storytellers have you ever listened to Ghostface?" kind of way. Even though Ghostface is great. But Billy Woods is on his own level as far as wordsmithing goes. And the beats he works with are dark, minimal, and weird, making this whole album a gripping listen, if not a very fun one.

04.20.2019
George Harrison
All Things Must Pass

Have you ever noticed that the second disc of All Things Must Pass really sucks?

04.18.2019
Brutus
Nest

Brutus is a metal (post hardcore?) band from Belgium, with a rare triple threat drummer-slash-frontwoman, who sounds exactly like Bjork destroying her vocal chords to At The Drive In. The first two songs they released convinced me this would be the album of the year, and the album art was even engaging enough that I hauled myself all the way to Williamsburg to buy a physical copy of it on its release day. Two weeks later, I'm already kinda bored with it. After the initial excitement of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to some steely, reverby heaviness, you get a little sick of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to steely reverby heaviness. And also it's not actually Bjork.

04.09.2019
Wyes Blood
Andromeda

This is a very lovely album of graceful Laurel Canyon-inspired writer-pop, lush pristine and precise, and that's all I really have to say about it at the moment. I just wanted to post this right away because the album cover is so nice that I want it up at the top of this blog for a while.

04.06.2019
These New Puritans
Inside The Rose

This new These New Puritans album isn't as good as that old These New Puritans album. But it's still real good, in a way that music in 2019 rarely is. Slow, thoughtful, intense. I'm not going to sit and write a big obituary for Talk Talk's Mark Hollis (which is a huge bummer, and he's every bit the genius all the other obituaries have made him out to be), but These New Puritans really do feel to me like a 21st century continuity of Hollis's late Talk Talk and solo work. Not at all in a soundalike way, but in the way that they seem spiritually in touch with each deliberate sound they make. I have issues with some of their choices that I don't with Hollis (such as, why are so many of their instruments electronically programmed instead of recorded in studio?), but the effect in the end is nearly always beautiful.

(Side note: The CD version of Inside The Rose has fantastically designed packaging. Clear sleeves, overlapping printing, a unique booklet. I know nobody really buys CDs anymore [of course not "nobody," but that's the standard line], but it's worth checking out if you're in to this kind of thing.)

04.06.2019
Moon Tooth
Crux

When Moon Tooth's Chromaparagon came out a couple years ago, I liked the shit out of it. It was easily in my top 2 or 3 or 5 albums of that year, and I actually listened to it. A ton. It took a while to fully embrace it, because at first blush their music leans pretty heavily into the lamest of muses. Incubus, for one. Alien Ant Farm (even though, look, I kinda like Alient Ant Farm). Tool (sigh, same). And especially Dillinger Escape Plan, who isn't necessarily lame, but they're not really at the cutting edge of metal in the 20-teens. If you weren't really paying attention, Moon Tooth could strike you as a marginally progressive nu metal or post hardcore band, and then you'd never think about them again. This is what I nearly did at first, but some of their music was just too interesting to ignore. The more I listened, the more even the initially eye-rolling parts started to reveal themselves as subtly brilliant. Drum patterns played with rhythm while guitar lines went to surprising places; riffs would morph into new forms instead of repeating ad nauseam, and actually revealed an unpredictable, Mastodon influence that wasn't initially apparent; the singer didn't just sounds like The Guy From Incubus, but he actually found surprising and soulful melodies within the band's chaotic churn. And perhaps most amazingly, given the state of metal over the last, oh, 25 years, their music is fun. It's energetic, affirming, and downright joyful.I swear I listened to this fucker once a week the entire year of 2016.

Then a month ago, as I hoped might happen (they're from Long Island, and I'm now here in New York), I caught them live at a heavy metal bar in Greenpoint. The bar was over half empty, which is maybe to be expected because it was a weekday night and they hadn't yet released their new record (that this review is ostensibly about), but most simply because Moon Tooth is not a popular band. Did you read the first couple sentences of this post? They're not cool, their music is not en-vogue, and they are basically ignored by the metal cook kids table. Still, it was a bummer to see how few people actually came out to see this band, because shit: they put on a show. They play with energy and feeling like you barely see these days, the singer constantly jumping into the crowd, running back and forth (even running back to the bar to sing directly to seated drinkers, who may or may not have even been there for the show), guitar player fucking feeling it. But they weren't just a bunch of douchebags hamming it up on stage. They were total pros. They played flawlessly, tight as hell, and exploding with energy. Honestly one of the best performances I've seen a band give in a long, long time. I was double sold.

And now their sophomore album Crux is out. Honestly there's nothing terribly surprising on it, no major stylistic shifts, no huge surprises, except maybe for the proggy-ass double-time King Crimson saxophone breakdown at the end of the opening track, or the Van Halen influence that shows up for brief moments on two different songs. But it's fucking great, from front to back, in a way that confirms everything I'd thought about these guys in the last couple years. And more; I'm honestly at the point right now that I feel comfortable calling Moon Tooth one of the best metal bands working today. Full stop. I don't think many other people will jump on that train, but whatever. Maybe they speak to me in a way they don't speak to other people. Maybe they need to get some high profile gigs to convince the tastemakers of their value. Maybe their bass player needs to stop wearing a backwards baseball hat.

Crux rules. Moon Tooth rules. I promise my next post won't be as long.

03.23.2019
La Dispute
Panorama

La Dispute sounds like if Sparta took a few years off after their first album and got really into poetry and Slint.

03.23.2019
Oozing Wound
High Anxiety

Holy hell this album is good. These guys come from the Chicago DIY/noise/punk scene (in fact Erin, who used to be extremely cool and lived in a warehouse in the middle of that scene, kinda knew these guys), and they've been described by music outlets in those noise-adjacent terms. And I guess they're pretty lo-fi, they eschew nimble guitar solos for squalls of noise, and they have songs titles like "Tween Shitbag," but to my ears this is metal through-and-through. But this is beyond just 'a few Chicago noise dudes getting together and trying to be a metal band,' this is legit quality trash metal. Even while the intensity is through the roof on every single track, the riffing and chord construction is downright sophisticated. Minors turn to majors, shit gets augmented, bridges take surprise turns, dissonant assaults get thrown in when necessary, no decision is ever the wrong one. Their aesthetic promises a snotty joke, but their output is exceptional. If I have any qualms, it's in the vocals, which maybe do lean more towards a noise punk thing, but whatever. They're intense and real, rather than a guy trying to be a metal guy. Shit, did I mention I like this album?

03.19.2019
Panda Bear
Buoys

It's been a long time since I've really had faith or excitement in anything Animal Collective related. In my own estimation, it's been diminishing returns since Feels, which was a long time ago now. Actually I don't want to think about how long. Same goes for Panda Bear himself, whose Person Pitch album was pretty great, but has generally ridden the same slow slide in the last decade as his band. No shame, it happens to everyone. So it feels like a breath of fresh air listening to Buoys, which, sure, feels a little 'minor' compared to some of his more epic work, but is otherwise a incredibly pleasant return to some of the more wide-open melodicism and DIY construct of the Collective's earlier work. You know, the Good Shit. Really Buoys is probably the closest to Sung Tongs as anything anyone from the group has done in the last decade. But lighter, more 'mature,' and comfortably less showy. Which is maybe what he's needed to do all along.

03.19.2019
Bob Mould
Sunshine Rock

This new Bob Mould record has the worst album cover of 2019, and possibly the worst song of 2019. Otherwise, it rips hard bro. Rips hard.

03.11.2019
Will Oldham
Joya

I did that thing with Will Oldham / slash / Bonnie Prince Billy where I jumped into his career kind of in the middle, and then mostly just went forward from there, assuming (erroneously) that the body of work before that entry point would be lesser than from that point forward. This is a dumb thing to do and I shouldn't do it. Because, as I've recently learned, in Will Oldham's particular case, his early stuff apparently rules. Joya is a joy. No shit.

04.29.2019 - by Steve
MomofukuManhattan
Spicy pork belly ramen, sausage buns

The gist: Extremely hot ramen, sweaty bros next to us couldn't handle it, incredible sausage buns, chicken wings that looked unbelievable but where only just pretty good. Momofuku is for real and surprisingly affordable and accessible. Just maybe think real hard about going spicy.

03.16.2019 - by Steve
Lions and Tigers and SquaresManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I'm going to try to keep this short. Because there's so many levels to it that I'm just exhausted from it already, especially having just written a 30 page essay about black and white cookies. Here's what's up: Detroit-style pizza is a thing now. It's a thing. Do they really make pizza like this in Detroit? Because if you ask me, what's known as Detroit-style pizza is what Rocky Rococo has been making my entire life. Square pan, thick crust with butter-crispy edges, personal sized pizza. You can even find versions of it in this city called something like "Sicilian style" or "grandma style." Where did this Detroit thing come from? Are you from Detroit? Can you help me?

That said: Detroit style pizza is delicious. Lions and Tigers and Squares, a new little shop that's decided to kickstart the trend in Chelsea, does a fine job of making it. It's probably an insult to them for me to say I like Rocky Rococo better though. But that's okay; Rocky Rococo is the best. Have you been there lately? There's one left in Brooklyn Center. Check it out.

And I have to admit, despite my annoyance at this whole "Detroit" thing, Lions and Tigers and Squares is an extremely clever name. Think about it.

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Zabar's Manhattan
Black and white cookie

I'm here to talk about the black and white cookie. This post specifically says "Zabar's" on it, which is where I purchased and photographed this particular black and white cookie, but having eaten a handful of different cookies from various locations—from trashy deli to beloved contemporary bakery—I have thoughts on this style of cookie in a more general sense, and subsequently thoughts about New York City's cultivation of a unique and hyper-local cuisine. If you would allow me to elucidate? Thank you.

There are certain foods that have been used for decades as a shorthand for "New York." Hot dogs. Bagels. Pizza slices. Pastrami on rye. These are all still pretty apt choices, but it's also an old list. It's 2019, times change, a whole new crop of people have been living here long enough to become a part of it. There's still a clear family of foods that are not necessarily unique to this city, but are so ubiquitous here while remaining somewhat niche in other places, that they feel truly like part of the makeup of New York's ecosystem. The list as I see it:

1. Halal chicken on rice
2. Pizza slices (going nowhere)
3. Bacon egg and cheese sandwiches
4. Bagels (going nowhere)
5. Boar's Head deli meat sandwiches (Boar's Head feels like a fancy good brand at stores in Minnesota. Here it is literally everywhere. You can't not buy it. Even the shittiest scariest lamest bodegas serve Boar's Head without fail.)
6. Seltzer
7. Jamaican beef patties
8. Hot dogs (going nowhere, but seemingly overtaken by halal chicken on rice carts)
9. Pickles
10. Black and white cookies

The black and white cookie might be the least visible of the items on this list, yet it's still extremely New York. It was even part of a Seinfeld gag! I don't think I ever saw one for sale anywhere in the Twin Cities. Maybe possibly once or twice in little bakeries, but not really. Here they're almost always right there in the pastry rack, next to the chocolate chip cookies and muffins and cakes, and just as often are up on or near the front counter of random crummy delis and bodegas, pre-packaged from whatever food distributers make them. What surprised me most about the black and white cookie, though, is that's it's barely even a cookie! I bit in, expecting sort of a standard sugar cookie, or perhaps something like a snickerdoodle, but really they're practically cake! They're extremely soft, like a very thin cake; or like a very wide muffin top. The icing, as you can see, is half chocolate and half plain (or vanilla?). And that's it.

I've had 3 or 4 at this point, and while the quality of course varies on the quality of the bakery. I've had them pre-packaged from a deli, and I've had one from a artisanal bakery in Prospect Heights that was listed on one food blog as the best black and white cookie in Brooklyn. In general they're always tasty. But they're too big, the icing sometimes gets weirdly chemically and kinda gives me a headache. But they're always satisfying.

This specific cookie that's up there in the photograph (and listed as the title of this post!) is from Zabar's, a "famous" Upper West Side grocery store that is supposedly famous for the black and whites. All I can say is it was good. Maybe the best I've had? It was certainly better than the cheap deli ones, and I actually didn't like the aforementioned Prospect Heights one all that much. So I guess Zabar's is technically the best I've had. But mark my word I'm going to track down the true king of black and white cookies in this town.

(Oh, also Zabar's pastrami sandwich was incredibly mediocre. Not worth a post.)

(Oh, oh, and the new Vampire Weekend music video was filmed in Zabar's! And Jerry Seindfeld was in it! We've come full circle!)

02.12.2019 - by Steve
La Caridad 78Manhattan
Cuban pork and dumplings

To get this out of the way, let me first say that La Caridad isn't particularly great. It's totally acceptable, but disappointing for the price point. Now, the interesting part:

La Caridad 78 is the oldest of the Upper West Side's Chinese Cuban restaurants. Which is a crazy thing to parse, because that means it's not the Upper West Side's only Chinese Cuban restaurant. There are more. 3 or 4 more, in fact. What happened is, back in the 50s and 60s, when the Castro regime took over Cuba and boatloads of defectors and asylum seekers fled to America, many of the ethnic Cubans ended in and around Miami. But Cuba also held a surprisingly large Chinese population, many of which came up to New York City, home to an already substantial Chinese community. These Chinese Cubans did what so many other new American transplants did, and started restaurants. But because they had a tradition of both Chinese and Cuban cooking, they just went ahead and opened restaurants that served both. Why not, I guess?

The excitement of learning of these places is tempered somewhat, when you learn that the Chinese side and Cuban sides of their menus are more or less independent of one another. There's no fusion here. No plantain dumplings, no szechuan cuban sandwiches. The closest you can do is to order a side of yellow rice and beans with your kung pao chicken instead of plain old white rice. It seems like a huge missed opportunity, but when you consider these places have been around for 60 years, I guess you can't complain.

Anyway, as I mentioned, there's nothing spectacular about the food. It's all good, yes, and if you got this quality of Cuban food from some hole-in-the-wall joint on Flatbush for $6 in a styrofoam container, you'd be thrilled. But this is the Upper West Side we're talking about, and you're paying Upper West Side prices. So yeah, it's charming and weird and maybe worth the trip if you're in the area and open to some novelty. But otherwise, just sate yourself on the knowledge that it exists at all.

01.20.2019 - by Steve
Schnipper'sManhattan
Cheeseburger

Manhattan's got a lot of chain restaurants that aren't really chains yet, but are clearly trying to use the cachet that comes with simply being in Manhattan (usually Midtown) as a springboard to becoming a chain restaurant. The examples are so plentiful that I can barely even think of one right now. They're ubiquitous and almost entirely forgettable—forged so carefully by marketers and designers and focus groupers to create fast casual fried chicken sandwiches and vaguely ethnic salad bowls that appeal with a laser focus to newly moneyed 20 and 30 somethings, that they become invisible in their omnipresence. Hell, I posted about a fried chicken place just a month or two ago, my very first living-in-NY food post, and I don't even remember what it was called.

Anyway, Schnipper's isn't exactly that. Sorry, I don't know why I started with that whole paragraph rant. But it's at least something like it. It's a chain restaurant that exists solely within the island of Manhattan, as desperate as it seems to stretch beyond. Basically it's a fast-casual diner. We're talking classic, Mickey's-level burgers and fries and shakes, even served on those plain white diner plates. I had a cheeseburger there, and it was good. Why are there so many Schnipper's'es? I don't know. Why is it so popular? Is it?

12.31.2018 - by Steve
Malaysian JerkyManhattan
Malaysian Jerky

There's this tiny little shop in Chinatown that sells Malaysian jerky. I don't think they have a name, and they don't sell anything else. But I promise you, if you go to the Malaysian jerky shop and buy some Malaysian jerky, you will not be disappointed.

11.08.2018 - by Steve
Blue Ribbon Fried ChickenManhattan
Fried chicken sandwich

Hey! Look! Music & Food is officially 10 years old! That's fucking weird, right?

I'd recommend you don't go back into the archives and find my first official post on here. It's an embarrassing misreading of Randy Newman's "Sail Away." But more than that, it's a hopeful and optimistic misreading of the state of America in 2008. I'd been working on building this new music and food blog as an outlet to practice some nascent coding skills, and it just so happened that the site was ready to launch just a couple days after the beautiful and magic election night, when we all felt great and the future was wide open. But now, exactly 10 years later, that beauty and magic has been gutted by people who hate beauty and magic. But also there's no such thing as magic.

And also, holy shit, I live in New York now?? And this is my first official New York food post! And it's Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, which I hit up while running an errand in the East Village (because I now run errands in the East Village). It looks delicious, and is stocked with a number of great looking hot sauces and honeys. But just like the magic of November 2008, sometimes looks can be deceiving.

Mac and cheese was good though.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Doughnut PlantManhattan
Blueberry doughnut

I'm still not a fan of the current cool-fancy doughnut craze, and the Doughnut Plant did nothing to change my mind. Oily and heavy and too expensive. Still waiting for that magical 4 dollar doughnut that's actually worth the 4 dollars.

07.22.2017 - by Steve
Gray's PapayaManhattan
Hot dogs

Gray's Papaya is a bit of a venerable Manhattan institution, noted for their cheap hot dogs and... I guess just their cheap hot dogs. And guess what? They taste like cheap hot dogs. No I didn't try the papaya juice.

07.18.2017 - by Steve
Xi'an Famous FoodsManhattan
Hand pulled noodles

On the recommendation of a friend, I stopped in to Xi'an Famous Foods, which I'd specify was in Chinatown as an appeal to realness, but in reality it's a minor chain in Manhattan and has 4 or 5 locations. So it may as well have been the Upper West Side. Anyway, Xi'an is famous for their hand-pulled noodles, which are so fresh and meticulously crafted that the restaurant puts a pop-up warning on their website that you should absolutely not order these noodles to go. And furthermore that if you insist on getting them to go, to please at least take a bite or two out of the container before leaving the restaurant if you plan on leaving any sort of Yelp review. The warnings are infamous enough that I had 3 different people ask me "Did you see the warnings?" when I mentioned I was going to eat there.

This sounds a little crazy, but I can appreciate it. I especially appreciate it after eating them, because these noodles are fucking amazing. I should mention that the actual dish I ordered was the cumin lamb. But while the lamb itself was tasty and spicy and cuminy and everything you'd want in a szechuan style meat dish, the noodles stole the show. I've never in my life been so impressed by a simple noodle. But they were a perfect combination of chewy and tender, with some actual richness of flavor that's usually absent from this sort of noodle, adding a perfect base to the spicy lamb surrounding it. You guys. You get it. They were awesome noodles.

07.16.2017 - by Steve
Artichoke PizzaManhattan
Pepperoni pizza

I had a couple pizza slices during my trip (because of course), and the best one was probably from Artichoke Pizza in Greenwich Village. There appears to be a handful of Artichoke locations around town (including the airport, ugh), and yes, duh, they always have actual artichoke pizza on hand. My pet theory is that they started as just regular pizza place just called, like, Tony's New York Pizza 2 or something, and got a lot of press and acclaim for their artichoke pizza, and then just decided to have their cake and eat it and change the entire brand of the place. Anyhow, not much to say other than it was a very tasty slice of classic New York style pizza! Good!

10.14.2012 - by Steve
East Corner WontonManhattan
Roast duck and pork on white rice

"We should go check out Chinatown and get some lunch," said a particularly unimaginative part of my brain. And so we did. And it was quite a sight. Like, it was like China. And I'm only being half sarcastic; New York's Chinatown is quite a scene. Even more so than San Francisco's. Very few English signs. Banks I've never heard of (good luck finding an ATM). A different world, man. I'm mildly embarrassed that when I saw some people exchange money for something on a corner, I was actually surprised it was U.S. currency. Even more surprised when I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the mirrored walls at East Corner Wonton, shocked to see that, "Wow, I forgot I'm a white guy!" This was after only about 30 minutes. Anyway. We chose this place, of all the hundreds of similar Chinatown restaurants, because the Village Voice named their roast duck and pork on white rice dish to be the best dish in Chinatown, and I'm a sucker for hype. The duck was too fatty and boney for me, although the skin had a great flavor. But that roast pork was incredible! It was like what roast pork at every other shitty Chinese place is trying to do. I didn't even care that it was cold. Plus the whole plate was only $5, and the service was awful to us, and the Chinese patrons, so we didn't feel too bad about it.


(1)