09.03.2020
Boris
NO

I've never really enjoyed Boris before. More than that, I've never even really understood Boris. Who are they? What are they doing? Is it drone? Is it noise? Is it metal? Is it electronic? Is it a band? Or a person? Do they only collaborate with other artists? What's the deal with Boris?

But then they put out this new album NO, and answer all my questions with very little room for confusion. This is a metal album by a metal band, hard stop. Okay well maybe not total trad metal, it has bits of hardcore and maybe some noise and punk in there, but not unlike the Oozing Wound album from last year (which I loved), this is just straight up nasty riffage. Crushingly intense. Not terribly intricate, but limber enough to make me wonder why they'd just been doing drone shit all those years. Or maybe they didn't? Did they? What were they doing that whole time?

08.29.2020
Hum
Inlet

20 years ago, Hum broke up and I accepted it and moved on. 10 years ago, they got together for some reunion shows, and I caught them in Chicago and it was pretty sweet, but once again I moved on. I haven't really spent any emotional energy for the last two decades worrying or wondering about if Hum would ever get back together or release new music or anything like that. In fact, as years went on, and as whispers and hints of a new album started percolating, I never once thought "wow I can't wait to hear it." Reunion albums can be major bummers, and I didn't necessarily trust a bunch of 40-50 year old guys who have long since moved on to have the same obsessive attention to detail that could match their work from the 90s.

But then they surprise dropped Inlet about a month and a half ago, and it's the only thing I've listened to since and it fucking rules.

06.14.2020
Neil Young
Zuma

I've been very dumb for ignoring Zuma my whole life. Well not totally ignoring it, because I've listened to "Cortez the Killer" a thousand times, but somehow I missed the fact that this is the album it was from. I blame the cover art. Anyway Zuma rules. L8r.

06.13.2020
Shamir
Cataclysm

This album sounds like if that one fateful night Prince would've met Hüsker Dü instead of Jimmy Jam.

More impressive than this album though, is a single Shamir just released called "On My Own," which I've listened to like 20 times in the last few days. To offer another overly sweaty metaphor, it sounds like Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" reborn as a 21st century post-genre lo-fi genderqueer global pandemic dance anthem. I'm totally fine with it being my official Song Of The Summer. Haven't had one of those in a while.

06.13.2020
Blake Mills
Mutable Set

This is excellent music. But it's extremely excellent walking around at night music. Try it.

06.12.2020
Armand Hammer
Shrines

About this time last year I was writing a glowing review of Billy Woods' Hiding Places. I was new to Woods, a Brooklyn rapper who's been quietly and anonymously (he doesn't share publicity photos, and he generally covers his face in videos) putting out a string of records and collaborations over the last decade, but after hearing just one song, I was sold. He's not the most exciting performer in the world, but he writes lyrics that will knock you flat. We're talking like Faulkner and McCarthy level wordsmithery, minimal and vital, all atop beats that hum with paranoid psychedelica. He's barely even a rapper; he's a poet with great taste in producers.

Armand Hammer is one of Woods' small handful of projects, along with another Brooklyn rapper Elucid. Remember all that probably overhyped praise I just wrote about Billy Woods? Well Elucid can keep up, verse for verse. The two share a profound outlook on the world, and the ability to find the words. Really all I want to do to review this stuff is to copy and paste line after line, but that seems kinda cheap. And maybe unlawful?

Anyway Shrines plays more or less like Hiding Places did, although with the addition of Elucid on every track, and a whole lot more guests, who all seem down with what Armand Hammer is doing. The music itself is a little more abstract, as are the lyrics, but it's just as gripping of a listen, from start to finish.

Plus the cover is a fucking crazy photo of a tiger in a Harlem apartment. They rap about it. They'll make you want to be that tiger.

06.12.2020
Run the Jewels
RTJ4

Let's do this shit.

06.08.2020
Oranssi Pazuzu
Mestarin Kynsi

It's frustratingly difficult to find metal that sounds truly new. (Not "nu"). So much of the genre seems to be built on lateral movement rather than forward movement, x-meets-y, dialing this aspect up and this aspect down, mixing this sub genre with this sub genre, referencing the guitar style of this old band with the vocals of that old band. This certainly works every now and then—nothing Blood Incantation did on their last album was particularly new, yet it's already a modern classic—but for the most part it makes sifting through new metal releases a joyless chore. But then once every few years you find Oranssi Pazuzu.

I guess there are references here—Can? Nine Inch Nails? Pink Floyd? Ministry? Soft Machine? Kraftwerk? Black Sabbath? Slint? Depeche Mode?—but they forge it into something. It's dark, it's sinister, it moves forward with a ceaseless pulse, even in its quiet moments. It's just barely metal. In just the first minute, you've already been transported and hypnotized, elated that your joyless digging has finally paid off.

And then the vocals come in, and it's like fucking Skeletor is choking on a hot dog. It's infuriating. Here is a band that's doing something, making new music within the world of metal. But these vocals are absolute C-grade black metal nonsense. Fully tuneless, usually out of sync with the music, adding absolutely nothing—and worst of all, not breaking any rules of the genre. It's a guy doing a silly voice.

This album is still a fulfilling listen, because everything surrounding those vocals is rich, enveloping, and beautiful. And I'd love to see Oranssi Pazuzu live to see how they unfold this stuff. But shit, for a metal band who has finally stopped caring about being a metal band, it's depressing that they couldn't take that final step.

06.07.2020
Jeff Rosenstock
NO DREAM

No matter what medium it is, it's always invigorating to see the work of somebody who's mastered their art. Jeff Rosenstock's art is pop punk, but goddamn he's figured it out. Total mastery.

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.

04.28.2020 - 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!)

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.