08.08.2017
Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You

I'd heard of Mary Halvorson before in recent years, but I mostly randomly happened upon this new Away With You album. It's a fascinating listen. Halvorson is a jazz/improvisational guitarist, and the octet is made up mostly of what you'd imagine a traditional jazz octet to contain. But the music feels like something truly its own. It's jazz in that it contains improvisation, is mostly instrumental, and moves itself along themes and modal movements, but save for its occasional forays into noisey free-jazz nonsense, the goup plays more like an experimental post-rock band attempting to translate marches and waltzes through the freewheeling horns of a New Orleans parade band. Except I just read that sentence and it's not like that at all. I don't even know. The high points on here are near miraculous; everything comes together behind some beautiful descending chord progression and weirdo guitar melody, and it feels completely fresh and new. And fun! But then all too often, the tracks fall apart into noodly free-jazz bullshit and aimless drum solos. It's not going to find a place in my life the way that more melodically-composed recent albums by Mammal Hands or Courageous Endeavors, but still, this is something worth hearing, refreshingly outside any sort of modern jazz orthodoxy.

07.28.2017
Cornelius
Mellow Waves

The first half of Mellow Waves is Album Of The Year good. It takes everything you loved about Cornelius and melts it down into perfectly composed prog-pop that could only have been created by this one guy. It's a dang joy. The second half, as you probably guessed, sort of comes down from that high. It's not bad at all, but you want it to kick into some newer crazier gear, but instead it just chills out and slowly fades off. Which is fine. But I just feel like this could have been an all time great album. Instead it's merely very, mind-blowingly, frustratingly amazing.

07.22.2017
Sly and the Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin On

Holy shit this is a good record. I'm a little mad that I've never bothered with it before. It's basically the fundamental blueprint of all the best neo-soul and Dilla/Shadow/Kanye hip hop beats that came a couple decades later. It should be played at all parties. Mandatory.

07.17.2017
MIKE
May God Bless Your Hustle

MIKE is a teenager from Queens who I assume is named Mike, and he raps. I can't really pinpoint anything particular about his voice style, he doesn't have any particularly memorable lines to quote back to you, and nothing about his beats or hooks are hummable. But from the standpoint of artistry and honesty, May God Bless Your Hustle feels great. The beats, produced apparently mostly by MIKE and some character named Sixpress, land somewhere in the Madlib/Shadow sphere of rough, analog, introspective hip hop, without worrying too much about old school boom bap or modern day trap bullshit. The whole album just flows, with MIKE's vocals often pushed so high in the mix that his verses sound like late night audio confessionals rather than attempts at stardom. And even if his style isn't exactly flashy or unique, it works through pure honesty and thoughtfulness. Basically, this is a dude I want to root for over the next few years, hoping that he doesn't get caught up in the seemingly bottomless hip hop hype machine that turns every young Bandcamp and SoundCloud rapper into an overexposed sellout.

07.16.2017
Girlpool
Powerplant

Girlpool's first album was a surprise favorite of mine in 2105. It had this rough, tossed off vibe, sounding like two girls who decided to record an album together at the same time that they're just learning to play guitar, yet totally unafraid to just go for it, arranging their perfectly written songs to fit within the constraints of their limited chops, belting every melody in catchy 2-part harmonies, and not giving a damn that they don't know any drummers.

This new one, then, disappointed me at first. It sounds like a band. A band that knows what they're doing. With a quality set of distortion pedals and a drummer who probably teaches lessons on weekends. "And this is a bad thing?" Well, considering the charm of the first Girlpool album, yeah. The rough edges are generally gone, and their vocals have gone from joyous bellows to more generic breathy indie whispers. And yet. And yet it grew on me very quick. The songs and melodies are still fantastic, and their trademark 2-part harmonies are still everywhere. And the drummer kicks ass and it basically rocks. It was a quick turnaround from "Ugh, Girlpool just ruined their sound" to "Top ten of the year" in my book.


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07.16.2017
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

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

07.16.2017
Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex

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

06.03.2017
Elder
Reflections of a Floating World

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

06.03.2017
Nightlands
I Can Feel The Night Around Me

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

06.03.2017
The Catherine Wheel
Ferment

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

06.03.2017
Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

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

04.21.2017
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

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

04.09.2017
Future Islands
The Far Field

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


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04.08.2017
Mastodon
Emperor of Sand

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


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04.07.2017
Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

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

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.


(1)
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).