10.31.2017
Bell Witch
Mirror Reaper

Slow.

10.17.2017
St. Vincent
Masseduction

I had prepared myself to spew my righteous rockist anger at this, St. Vincent's ironic-but-not-ironic-but-maybe-ironic pop cash grab. Produced by that guy who produces everything. Beats by cool beatmakers. A self consciously sexy and colorful marketing push. Pre-release singles that were about Weezer-level dumb things like Los Angeles phonies and, like, pills. Holy shit was I going to tear this album a new one. Or maybe I'd say "Um actually it's a work of genius!". One of those two.

But really, all I have to say is that it's just good. That's it. It's really not much different stylistically than her last album and a half. The pop thing isn't really a thing, and there's just as much guitar wizardry as I'd hope. But still, "Pills"? Really?

10.17.2017
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice

I'm really, really hoping to be wrong about this, and I very well might be, but I think this Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile duet album is a bummer. Why is it a bummer? I don't know. I like both of them (although I like Courtney a whole lot more), and I generally like the idea of what they're doing. But it just doesn't work. Their voices don't sound good together, their songwriting styles don't mesh, it just feels wrong. But I dunno. Hopefully I can delete this post a month from now and write about how much of a dummy I was for writing those last 6 sentences.

10.17.2017
Robert Plant
Carry Fire

I know better than to underestimate any Robert Plant solo album, even now in 2017. Somehow he's retained a Dylan-like baseline of "at least listenable" for everything he records, even now into his 70s, and his record with Alison Krauss earlier in the decade is somehow a transcendent modern classic, despite its kinda-dull-NPRness. So yeah, I'm not surprised that Carry Fire is good. But I am startled by how good it is.

10.17.2017
Kamasi Washington
Harmony Of Difference

"Truth" might be the most beautiful thing Kamasi Washington has recorded. Which is a very high bar.

09.28.2017
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Luciferian Towers

The first two tracks here are a little bit boring, but the last two really scratch that Godspeed itch.

09.28.2017
Ted Leo
The Hanged Man

So here's this new Ted Leo album, which is pretty exciting, since he's Ted Leo. And even more exciting than usual, because of his recent forays into a gentler, more melodic side of his music with Aimee Mann. Word also got around that he recorded it all himself, in his new home studio, and it was shaping up to be a sort of personal symphony-to-god type record; keyboards and horn sections and choirs and the whole bit. Sounds great. Except for that it doesn't sound great. In the literal auditory sense. It's cool that he put together a home studio and recorded this thing, but just sounds rough. Like a demo for a much better later recording. The drums are dull and soft, the bass is fat and flat, the guitar is okay, but doesn't have nearly the razor edge that his old recordings often had. It's a bummer, because some of the songs are pretty good, but they just fall flat. It's not even a 'recorded so poorly that it becomes even better' lo-fi kind of situation. Real weird album. I'll keep listening to it though. It feels like a grower.

09.19.2017
Kendrick Lamar
Damn

I was wrong about Damn. I heard the singles and wrote it off. "It sounds like he's given up and reaching for radio hits," I grumbled. "It doesn't hold a candle to has last two unimpeachable classics" I groused. "It's everything wrong with the current state of popular music," I whinged. Oh but then I listened to the damn thing. I already said I was wrong, what more do you want from me?


(1)
09.19.2017
Milo
Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!

I miss early millennium indie rap. I didn't even like most of it at the time. But compared to the autotuned trap garbage getting thrown around all day every day in 2017, hearing a guy from Maine rap about poetry over electric pianos and jazz samples and breakbeats goes down real smooth. Don't know if I'll ever listen to this album in 2018, but I like having it around for now.

09.11.2017
Iron and Wine
Beast Epic

It seems most of the world has moved on from Iron and Wine after his last couple jazz-inflected Astral Weeks-lite experiments, which I actually liked, but I get it. Everybody is wearing black silk onesies and playing MIDI keyboards and appearing on Beyonce albums now. It makes sense that nobody has much room in their hearts for the beardy sad guy with a guitar. But Sam Beam doesn't care. He's not trying his hand at synthpop or Mumford arena folk. Hell no. In fact he's gone back to his original band and studio and recorded an OG-AF Iron and Wine album. And it's so nice.

09.11.2017
The Cure
Disintegration

I've long held a controversial opinion that Wild Mood Swings is the best Cure album. Look. It's not a hill I'm willing to die on. But I will say that "Plainsong" is untouchable.

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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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.


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10.11.2012 - by Steve
Peel'sManhattan
Chicken sandwich

Peel's may have possibly, maybe, maybe, possibly been our favorite meal on our trip to New York. It came recommended to us as a great brunch stop, but due to some accidental subway craziness (sorry again Libby), we stopped in for some lunch instead. It's in the "Noho" neighborhood of Manhattan (even though I was told to never, ever actually refer to it as "Noho", so from here on in I won't), and its design and decor could probably be described as "cheery 1920's French industrial diner". Old timey, but not novel. Crisp, clean, bright. Totally pleasant. I don't remember what was on the menu, but I got a fried chicken sandwich with honey mustard and pickles, and Libby got a smoked turkey sandwich. Nothing flavor-wise was funky or unusual, but everything was just done right. And to go along with the decor, everything seemed very precisely composed. No grease, no mess, everything in its right place. We were both really impressed with the place, and would definitely go back if we're in NYC in the future.

10.02.2012 - by Steve
Petite AbeilleManhattan
Chicken stew, waffle

I was going to wait until we were home from New York to post anything about it, but I figure I better do this now before I forget about this place completely (zing!). It's called Petite Abeille. It's an adorable little Belgian cafe in adorable little West Village (or maybe Greenwich Village?) with an adorable little logo and an adorable little chalkboard menu. Its menu was on par with Barbette, and the quality was as well—so it was slightly less good than you'd think it would be (zing!). Granted, Libby said her mussels were delicious, and my fries (sorry, "frittes") were Barbette quality as well, but my chicken stew was about as good as homemade chicken stew your grandma would make. So, good, but maybe not for the price and for a single trip to an adorable little cafe in the West Village. Not to mention the fact that I actually ordered the beef stew. My biggest takeaway: I should've gone with the burger.


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08.28.2009 - by Steve
Katz's DeliManhattan
A pile of money on rye

Katz's is supposedly one of the last original non-chain Jewish delis in New York, so of course we had to go give it a shot on my last day in the city (since I wasn't going to have time to fulfill my dream of throwing a trash can through the window of a racist Brooklyn pizza joint). It was delicious. There is no doubt about that. And the restaurant, while very large, certainly had a legitimate charm and history to it. But holy cannoli, look at those prices! Given the swarms of people that must eat there every day, it's probably completely reasonable for them to charge $15 for a single sandwich with no sides, or $4.50 for a side of cole slaw. They do brine their own corned beef and pastrami so it's incredibly fresh, and I assume they make their own cole slaw and potato salad as well. But if I lived nearby, I can't imagine wanting to go there too often. It was probably better than Cecil's (very different, at least), and at least as good as Mort's (and now that I think about it, Mort's certainly isn't for penny-pinchers), but I'd bet if you're living in Manhattan, you probably have a handful of places that you can get a comparable meal for half the price. Although I doubt you'll find better potato salad.

08.28.2009 - by Steve
Random gyro cartManhattan
Chicken gyro

Having been in New York for two and a half days now, I have already noticed a major and disappointing fact about the city's famous street food vendors. See, for years, I've been under the impression that the sidewalks of Manhattan are rife with roving street carts selling any and every kind of food--from hot dogs to burgers to tacos and maybe some barbeque ribs and duck confit or something. But in truth, it seems that there are only about four options. We have gyro and kabob carts, hot dog carts, ice cream carts, and hot dog and ice cream carts. And they all seemed to be operated by the same 2 or 3 companies. If you're in Central Park near the Upper West Side, you're stuck with the same exact gyro and ice cream sandwich as down south in Battery Park. I was hoping for some surprises, the occasional fancy/good/cool cart selling, I don't know, elk sausages or tikka masala or something. But all day, up and down Manhattan, are the same carts, the same signs, same prices, and the same processed meats.

(Speaking of processed meats, Ben and Justin mentioned on my first night how it's practically impossible to find bratwurst in New York. While that seemed unbelievable at the time, I really haven't seen it anywhere all weekend, counting all the concession stands at the Mets game. I mean, I'm sure you could find it at a good grocery store or meat market or something, but as far as casual sausage consumption goes, Italian Sausage is really the cased meat of choice in this part of the country).