05.14.2020
Little Wings
Zephyr

It's been over 10 years since I was last compelled to listen to a new Little Wings album. This is partly because in the mid aughts he released a few odder, less interesting albums in a row that I couldn't engage with, a sort of diminishing results of weirdness when all I really wanted was more of his perfectly constructed diy ditties. But it's also partly because he straight up stopped releasing stuff for a while. But then suddenly in April, whether because of the lockdown or Bandcamp's occasional artist-friendly sales, or just because he got bored, he opened up the floodgates. He's released (or re-released) 4 or 5 full albums in the last month or two, and one of them is Zephyr, which according to the description is an official release and reworking of an Australia-tour-only cassette from a few years ago, that he had been meaning to flesh out into a full studio album. I'm glad he didn't, though, because this is a fantastic little collection as-is. It's mostly (or all?) Kyle Field and one guitar, no slapped-together backing band, no extraneous experiments or improvised goofiness, no waste, no nonsense. The songwriting on every track is focused and thoughtful, almost every track showing a more mature side of Little Wings, versus the K-Records teenage-symphonies-to-god fantasias that he often works in. But if that sounds a little too dad rock for you, don't worry, he also released a full band improvised garage recording of his make believe surf rock bar band The Be Gulls if that also interests you. I mean to be honest it interests me, too.

05.09.2020
Pure X
Pure X

The first 5 seconds of this album is the album of the year. The dirtiest, grimiest, distortiest guitar you've ever heard, but it's actually playing rich chords, deep grooves. I think the rest of the album is pretty good too, but all that really matters is that one track, "Middle America," and all that really matters about that one track is that damn guitar. (Also, not actually album of the year, that's just a little hyperbole to make for a fun blog. But shit.)

04.28.2020
Gaytheist
How Long Have I Been On Fire

This band is called Gaytheist and they started as a novelty gay-themed metal band in Portland. And they're way better than those two statements would have you imagine.

04.28.2020
Nicolas Jaar
Cenizas

Cenizas is one of the most perfect walking-around-late-at-night-with-headphones albums I've heard in a long, long time. Probably since the last Nicolas Jaar album.

04.28.2020
Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters

If you're reading this in the future (and of course you are, because that's how this whole reading and writing thing works), more specifically, years or perhaps even a decade or two into the future, I wonder what you think of Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Do you think anything of it? Do you think it's a laughable mess and wonder how on earth it got rave reviews upon its release? Or has it grown into an all time classic, an era-defining work of art? What's Fiona up to these days? What did she do after this? And like, did we ever make it out of this mess?

Those are things I wonder. But there are a couple things I need you to know about this album at this time. Foremost is that, for a brief moment, one late Thursday night through the weekend, it was Special. Truly, genuinely, heart-achingly special. This is a shitty time we're living in—not just the pandemic, but everything surrounding, leading up to, and being borne out of it. The bad guys just keep winning, and everything is hopeless. Shit sucks. And not to go too philosophical, shit has sucked for a lot longer than this difficult time. It's sucked specifically women for a whole lot longer than that. And then, just a couple Thursday nights ago, Fiona Apple (already beloved amongst the more in-touch populations of music nerd-dom, and perhaps even beloved-er over the last year after her classic song "Criminal" appeared in a memorable scene in the pretty-good movie Hustlers), decided she was going to release her new album early, and it was exactly what we all needed.

For a couple days, none of the other shit mattered. Fiona was saying everything we've wanted to hear, spewing fire, line after line, song after song, truths we've all been thinking for years now. This world is bullshit. It immediately got rave reviews from outlet after outlet. It famously, in a matter of just a couple hours, got a 10 on Pitchfork, and you'd have a hard time finding anybody who didn't think it deserved every decimal of it. People on Twitter were losing their shit, changing their screen names to bolt-cutter-related puns, changing their avatars to Fiona. Something about the music on this album—the primitive percussive pounding, the gut wrenching vocal missives, the hot knife sharp lyrical veracity—got into not just the zeitgeist, but deep into people's psyches, like no other music release I've experienced in my lifetime. More than Kid A, more than any Kanye release, more than Lemonade or 1984. Which is especially impressive considering this album is nuts. And beautiful. It brought me to the point of tears 4 different times on my first listen. Which I don't mention because I think bringing someone to tears is a reliable sign of a good piece of art, or that I'm trying to cash in some woke points for being a sensitive male or some bullshit—simply that Fetch the Bolt Cutters contains a power that transcends music.

You're in the future, and I have no idea how that statement will land with you. Maybe we're all suffering mass psychosis. Maybe it's just a noisy, fussy follow-up to her actual masterpiece The Idler Wheel. Maybe everyone makes jokes about that "10" that's still sitting on its Pitchfork review. To be honest, after that first weekend finished and Monday rolled around again, and the bullshit of this world kept on piling up and the people in charge kept on shoveling onto it, we all moved on. But for about 3 days, we felt like we might actually win, and Fiona was leading the fucking charge.

You're in the future, and I hope the bolt cutters have been fetched.

04.18.2020
The Mountain Goats
Songs for Pierre Chuvin

I never got into the Mountain Goats until they (he) was past their (his) extremely lo-fi, record-directly-into-a-boombox-cassette phase. My intro happened I believe around 2009 when The Life of the World To Come was released, which more or less marked the beginning of what might be phase three of the Mountain Goats. We're talking full band, pristinely engineered, studio recorded collections of songs which generally floated around (or directly interrogated) a single theme—not quite rock opera style, but far more linear than the lyrical concerns of most other bands. Life of The World still feels like a wonderful album to me, but in the 10 years since, I have to admit their output has suffered from long, slow, diminishing returns. And despite the thematic differences (one album about professional wrestling, one album about a D&D campaign), their studio sound has sounded more or less the same from album to album. Crisp and clean and full, yes, but the spark from those early boombox recordings has been sanded off almost completely.

But then what happened—have you heard?—is we're suddenly living in these difficult times. John Darnielle is stuck at home, and is sitting on a pile of songs. And whether he came up with the idea, or whether hoards of his fans shouted the idea at him after hearing him play some of his new songs into his smartphone camera, he decided to get his old boombox out and record Songs for Pierre Chuvin

It's a minor revelation. The joy of hearing him shout these words onto a tinny hissing cassette tape is genuinely refreshing. I don't think the studio sheen was ever hurting the Mountain Goats necessarily, but you hear him play these songs and you realize how unnecessary it's been, like we've been missing out on something essential about his songs for the last decade.

But that's the other thing. I don't know if these songs are exactly up to the task. They're interesting, they're clever, they make you want to know what's going on (did I mention the whole album is based off a book by a Harvard historian about the pagan cultures of the 5th century AD who were confronting the new specter of mass Christianity entering their worlds? That's what the album is about. That's what the phase three Mountain Goats do). But no single track on it has the power of his best early work. "This Year," "No Children," "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton", these are the obvious 3, but the list could go on well beyond that. Those songs were deeply human, richly described, absolutely cutting in a real way. I don't remember the last song Darnielle has written that's cut to a core in the way that these do, and none of the songs on Songs for Pierre Chuvin hit that mark, despite the boombox.

Still, simply listening to Darnielle sing his guts out into a boombox was exactly what some of us needed right now. Well, until we were asked to Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

04.17.2020
Laura Marling
Song For Our Daughter

I'm sorry that Laura Marling released this album a week before Fetch the Bold Cutters. Well no, actually I'm glad she didn't release it the same week, because it would've been totally eclipsed by the sheer gravity of that thing (not that we're comparing), and that would be a shame. Because Laura Marling is an overlooked gem of a singer songwriter, and this album is just as pristinely listenable and comforting as her last, oh, five albums (over the same stretch as Fiona made her one. Not that we're comparing).

04.17.2020
Hailu Mergia
Yene Mircha

Just getting some posts out of the way so I can write a few dozen paragraphs about Fetch the Bolt Cutters!

Jk. Well not really. But mostly. Look, I only got into Hailu Mergia with the album Lala Belu he released a couple years ago; I'm not going to pretend like I first heard his obscure 1970s Ethiopian club recordings on some limited vinyl release or something. But that album totally surprised me with its left-field organs and surprisingly soulful accordion jams and one of the most hootin'est hollerin'est upbeat tunes of that year, and one of the prettiest solo piano exercises on this side of Brad Mehldau and McCoy Tyner.

Yene Mircha caught me fully by surprise. I had no idea he was planning on releasing a new album (he'd only released that one in the last 40 years after all), until I saw it on some new release list somewhere. And then it caught me by surprise again. The first run through this album left me a little cold. Where Lala Belu was a made by a simple trio, this one fills out the band with electric guitar and more drummers and backup singers and a full band sound that can veer real close to adult contemporary, jazzamatazz territory. But even by the second listen, I got over that stuff and realized there was still this unique melodic voice underneath it all. And some weird ass keyboard, organ, and accordion sounds. The highs aren't as high as Belu, but it's a dang fun time anyow.

03.28.2020
Fluisteraars
Bloem

Fluisteraars is a Danish black metal band who put out an incredible song, "Oeverloos" a year or two ago. It was just one song one one side of a split single with another metal band, but it was a masterpiece. Part of what made it great—as is usually the case with great black metal songs—is that it didn't necessarily follow the rules of black metal. It had melodic moments, it had moments that sounded like early 90s alt rock, it vibed. And it left me desperate for a full-length from these guys.

Bloem is finally that full-length, and I'm confused. It doesn't seem to be breaking any rules, it doesn't seem to have many outside influences beyond extreme metal, and yet—it vibes. My initial reaction was disappointment of course, but it's one of those albums that somehow hooked into me despite myself, and I've probably listened to it a dozen times already. Something about the melodies on it, redundant as they get from track to track, feel timeless. Like this is the only black metal music ever recorded and we already know it all by heart.

So now I'm just desperate for a follow-up to this one.

03.26.2020
French Vanilla
How Am I Not Myself?

Last Friday Bandcamp had a very nice deal where for 24 hours they gave 100% of purchases to the artists, rather than taking their usual 15% cut (which is actually a totally fair deal, and by all accounts Bandcamp is an honest and decent company who's service to artists is heads-and-shoulders above the big streaming companies, so this isn't an interrogation of them. But good on them anyway). It was a huge day, and the community of internet music weirdos seemed truly engaged with jumping on Bandcamp for a day and hoarding as much digital download loot as possible—help out some small artists, hear some good tunes, what a deal! The site seemingly had a massive day, based on the fact that it was completely overwhelmed and had numerous outages throughout the day. But no worries, I got some stuff, everyone got some stuff, it was a nice little event.

Of all this stuff, the one that's really stood out to me is French Vanilla's How Am I Not Myself?. This album came out last year, and I heard a couple singles from it and thought they sounded fun, but as these things go sometimes, I just kinda forgot about them by the time they released the full length. Thankfully something jogged my memory on Friday, because just like I remembered, this album is hoot! It's tight, upbeat, angular music that's got a fun beat and is easy to dance to. It's music that could have a handful of genre descriptors attached to it—indie pop, post punk, dance rock, twee new wave—but I'm going to dare to go one scary step further:

5th wave ska.

And before I elaborate on that, I'm just going to go ahead and end this music post. French Vanilla is 5th wave ska and I be you'll enjoy listening to them. Stay safe out there.

03.17.2020
Snarls
Burst

Gen Z'ers who are deciding to pick up guitars are also seemingly deciding to pick up Sundays and Cranberries and Ride and Lush records, and we're all extremely lucky for it.

02.16.2020
Walter Martin
The World at Night

Charming.

04.28.2020 - by Steve
New York Times CookingManhattan
Coq au vin

This isn't a recipe blog, but these are difficult times. So here, go make this recipe and prepare yourself to thank me, because it will be the best damn meal you'll make yourself all year.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018529-coq-au-vin

03.28.2020 - by Steve
Katz's DeliManhattan
Pastrami on rye

Way, way, way back in the early days of this music and food blog, I posted about Katz's. I recommend that you don't go back and read it, but the gist was: Katz's is pretty good, but wowie is it expensive, and I bet you can do better!

Well now I'm older (much), wiser (a little), and richer (just barely), plus I actually live in this goddamn city, so I feel much more comfortable saying this: 10 years ago Steve was wrong as shit. Katz's is everything that is right and good in this world, and I don't give a damn that their sandwiches cost $20. Because guess what, there are other Jewish delis around town, and they're all just as expensive, and not nearly as good. Plus it's open all night!

Come to New York. Eat at Katz's. Get the pastrami. Skip the corned beef. Probably wait until like 10pm so you can actually get a table. Hopefully they make it through this junk.

03.17.2020 - by Steve
Los Tacos No. 1Manhattan
Tacos

I'm drastically behind on food posts. Sorry everybody. But what better time than a devastating worldwide pandemic (is that redundant?) to sit inside and tell you about tacos?

This is Los Tacos No. 1, and I had a whole other specific introduction I wanted to give here, but a national law just passed that every sentence we speak and write must contain one reference to viruses, social distancing, quarantines, or at least use the phrase, "Crazy, huh?". But the short take on Los Tacos is that it started as a kiosk in Chelsea Market, became massively popular, then opened new locations in some of the shittiest spots in Manhattan. There's one in Times Square, one in the Financial District, and a new one opening (if humanity survives long enough) at Grand Central Station. Even just reading that list is annoying to me, and makes me want nothing to do with Los Tacos No. 1.

Except honestly these are some of the best tacos in the city. Like, practically perfect tacos. And even though the taco "authenticity" debate mostly makes me want to crawl in a hole (or lick a subway pole), these little guys at least seem as authentic as you could ask for. The place even has a fun (if contrived) throwback quality to it—minimalist hand-painted signage, a bare bones menu, employees wearing little short order chef hats and white aprons—it's all set up to feel like you're in an urban Mexico City taqueria that hasn't been updated since the 60s. It's a little corny, but it actually works. But more importantly, the tortillas are fresh, the fillings are outstanding, the service is extremely efficient, and you could find a much worse place to be quarantined inside of.

02.16.2020 - by Steve
Great NY NoodletownManhattan
Roast duck on noodles

It's roast duck on noodles. Look at it up there. Don't you want to eat it? Isn't it calling your name?

02.12.2020 - by Steve
PongalManhattan
Paneer rava

I think the food at this Curry Hill dosa place was real good. I think. And I also think we had a good time enjoying an evening with friends and sharing some delicious fried appetizers. Pretty sure we did. But it is all just a blur to me, because the waitstaff was so intent on getting us out of there so they could close, I'm not exactly sure what happened between sitting down and paying the bill. This isn't a snotty Yelp review or anything, I'm not really complaining, since it was partially our fault for getting a table 20 minutes before their closing time (although on the internet it said they closed an hour later, so...). And they were at least nice about it, constantly saying it wasn't a big deal and that we should enjoy our meal. But holy cow, the speed at which they moved, and the daggers with which they watched the state of our plates as we were finishing.

Delicious though. Can't complain about that.

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Prince Street PizzaManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I biked through SoHo on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, which wasn't a great idea because SoHo on a Saturday afternoon is a shitshow of tourists who think they're too good to be part of the Times Square shitshow of tourists. Plus those brick paved streets. Yikes.

Anyway while I was weaving through the mobs, I noticed two establishments which had roped off lines of people down the sidewalk waiting to get in; one was Moncler, maker of extremely expensive extremely French goose down jackets, and the other was Prince Street Pizza. Maker of pizza.

I don't think I'm super plugged in to the pizza trends in this town, and I thought maybe I'd heard of Prince Street Pizza before, but I was surprised to see the sheer number of people lined up for a slice—not to mention the preparedness of the place to deal with such a line. Clearly they get this every weekend. But I had no idea why.

So a week or two later, I was in the area on a random weeknight and thought I'd go see what the big deal was. Best case, I figured, was I'd get a decent fresh slice comparable to John's—pretty fine New York pizza that becomes so inexplicably popular that its fresh pizza turnover rate allows quality becomes self reflexive—and at worst I'd still get an okay slice of pizza. But Prince Street threw me a curveball: Detroit style!

You know about Detroit style, right? Well I'm not gonna get into it here. Go ahead and google it. But I assume that Prince Street just recently made a switch to Detroit style (or opened anew), and probably got some press somewhere or another, and now they've got lines around the block. Thing about Detroit style pizza is, it's legit. I don't think it's a fad, I don't think it's a marketing ploy, it's not some make believe bullshit like, ugh, Sota-style (thanks Red's Savoy). It's real and it's beautiful and it's almost always delicious. And Prince Street's was more delicious. Seriously fantastic. Maybe the best slice I've had in the city so far? I think it might be.

12.13.2019 - by Steve
Shanghai 21Manhattan
Soup dumplings, spare ribs

There's a whole lot of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and I'm not about to try to tell you which are the good ones and bad ones. Big Wong's does a totally decent roast duck and rice for cheap, North Dumpling does totally decent dumplings for shockingly cheap, the Malaysian jerky shop is always a fun stop to make, and now I can confidently tell you that Shanghai 21 does very good soup dumplings and even better spare ribs. Not necessarily cheap cheap, but that's not really the selling point here.

10.29.2019 - by Steve
TaïmManhattan
Falafel

Good falafel, good toppings, a good pita, multiple locations. This is a short food post.

10.10.2019 - by Steve
Sardi'sManhattan
French onion soup

Sardi's is one of those famous old Manhattan joints that you've probably seen in a movie and has probably been referenced on Seinfeld where the bartenders wear bowties and there are autographed celebrity caricatures all over the walls and you can go sit and pay way too much for a drink after seeing a Broadway show. I can't speak for the drinks, but their world famous French onion soup was totally decent, as were the meatballs. And you know what? It was nice! It was a nice chill pleasant evening in a weird old bar, which is actually a pretty rare thing in the middle of Times Square's nonsense.

07.29.2019 - by Steve
Hudson & CharlesManhattan
Roast beef sandwich

This is the best sandwich I've had in New York, and seriously, I don't remember where I got it. It was a sort of bougie artisanal-type butcher shop on the Upper West Side (or was it just in the high 50s of Midtown?), and I've been looking all over Google Maps to figure it out, but I think it just disappeared. It's the Brigadoon of sandwich shops. But anyway, it was a roast beef with arugula and horseradish—very much like Clancy's but not quite up to that god-status level—and it was a beautiful reprieve from the endless parade of Boar's Head cold cuts that this city usually offers.

If I figure out where I got it, I'll be sure to let you know.

UPDATE: Hudson & Charles. That's the name of the place. It's on 86th and Amsterdam. There you go.

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!)