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.


(1)
09.28.2017 - by Steve
The BulldogNortheast Minneapolis
Eggs benedict, bacon caramel roll

I never would've guessed The Bulldog would have the best brunch in Northeast, but here we are.

09.19.2017 - by Steve
Emily's Lebanese DeliNortheast Minneapolis
Raw kibbeh, cabbage rolls

Lebanese seems to be the most modest of middle eastern cuisines. Fresh, simple, lightly seasoned, beige. Downright pleasant. Emily's is a modest but beloved Lebanese place, just a couple blocks away from my apartment, surrounded by a couple Lebanese churches, and is so modestly pleasant that I often forget it's even there. But recently I remembered that it's there, and had a perfectly modestly pleasant dinner, which consisted of cabbage rolls, stuffed grape leaves, and the pièce de résistance: raw kibbeh. Yes, like the mediterranean version of beef carpaccio, kibbeh is basically uncooked ground beef and lamb, mixed with some grains and onion and spices, and served with a raw onion and pita. From what I've read about it, the secret to keeping kibbeh safe is also what makes it particularly delicious; it's all about knowing the butcher you're receiving the meat from, grinding it on a completely clean and sterile blade, and preparing the dish immediately before serving it. So while it's maybe a little scary in this day and age to eat a dish like this, the fact that it's made with such care (and high quality, freshly butchered meat), that the final product is outstanding. Much better than the sum of its parts. The cabagge rolls and grape leaves, meanwhile: eh. I prefer Kramarczuk's rolls. Still, if you ever want to give something different a shot, find your local Lebanese place (probably Emily's!), and go for the kibbeh. If you make it through the night, you won't regret it.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Ghorka PalaceNortheast Minneapolis
Lamb newari choyla

It was about damn time that I finally went to Ghorka Palace, and I'm glad I did. I think Ghandi Mahal is still my favorite Indian place in town, but it's now a real competition. This newari choyla deal I had was maybe one of the best Indian dishes I've ever ordered. Basically charred tandoori lamb, served with some random little bites, almost bento box style, with yogurt and naan. Every bit of it was fantastic, and a nice relief from the normal wet stewed curries I usually get. I will be sure to report back after a second visit to see how much Ghandi Mahal needs to be worried.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
The Draft HorseNortheast Minneapolis
Roast beef sandwich

The Draft Horse is bougie new place in an unbougie corner of Northeast, and their roast beef was fatty and bland, and this is basically everything I hate about Minneapolis restaurants in 2017.

09.11.2017 - by Steve
Jersey Mike'sNortheast Minneapolis
Italian sub

Hot take: Jersey Mike's is the best sub sandwich chain. I only recently had it for the first time, and I find myself thinking about it nearly every day. A little expensive though.

06.11.2017 - by Steve
JL BeersNortheast Minneapolis
Cheeseburger

I'd been mostly avoiding this JL Beers place that popped up in Northeast a couple years ago, because it had the desperate stink of a chain trying hard not to look like a chain in order to appease all of us city folk. Which is exactly what it is. But when I found myself in need of a very particular kind of thin, oniony, 'burger stand' style bar burger one night, I discovered that is the exact kind of burger JL Beers makes. Which is refreshing for a chain like that. Furthermore, with a little snooping I learned that JL originated in Fargo, and really only has a few locations in the North and South Dakota, and now a few in the Twin Cities. So as far as chains go, it's almost downright charming. Okay, so I'll go to JL Beers. The place is set up just like some "real" dive bar. Long, open grill and fryers behind the bar, not a ton of tables. The biggest red flag is on those grills, where they have automatically timed presses (I guess you'd call them?) that flatten and speed-cook the burgers on the grill. Which feels a little sad, but maybe fun that you could say your burger is cooked by robot? Or maybe every restaurant has these, but just never out in the open? Anyway, I got a cheeseburger, and it looked perfect, like something from Matt's or the Cedar Grill or any 'real' place that JL Beers is trying to mimic. Except: the burger tasted gross. It reminded me of the burgers I'd get as a kid from a Chinese restaurant when I was too picky to eat Chinese food. This very specific, oily, tinny essence that just tastes wrong. And the fries had a similar wrongness. So. They almost did it, JL Beers. Almost.

04.09.2017 - by Steve
PinKuNortheast Minneapolis
Fried shrimp, tuna on crispy rice, gyoza

Everything I ate at PinKu tasted great. The pork filling in the gyoza was a little mushy, and the radish 'noodles' under the crispy shrimp was a little bit plain, but otherwise it was all mostly flawless. And hey, I even like that the design of the space isn't too annoying, and that it's a modestly low-key, order-at-the-counter spot that doesn't seem to be trying too hard. Good! But my problem with PinKu is this: I spent $24 there, ate every scrap on my plate, and was still hungry enough when I left that I damn-near went into Savoy next door to get a meatball sub. It's a gripe as old as time. "Oh I paid a fortune at this fancy rest-o-raunt for just a tiny plate of food and a piece of lettuce!" It's annoying. I get that good food takes time and talent and costs money. But this was a little overboard, especially for a place that claims to offer "Japanese Street Food," which to me means it should be hearty and a little bit crass, but filling and satisfying. Granted, I've never been to Japan, but I don't think anything at this place can be qualified as "street food"—it's more or less a sushi joint. (I'd rant further about the new trend of restaurants claiming to serve "street food," but you can scroll down to my Spitz post to get your fill of that). Basically, look... I like PinKu. I enjoyed their food. I liked being in their space. But I just wish it was either $5–6 cheaper, or they would've given me two more pieces of shrimp and one more tuna crispy rice cube. And maybe some miso soup. Or a coupon for a free meatball sub next door.

04.03.2017 - by Steve
Gardens of SalonicaNortheast Minneapolis
Lambchops

Gardens of Salonica was always one of those places that just existed in my mind. I'd heard people mention it, and it seemed to be somewhat timeless and simply around, but until I lived over here, it never occurred to me that it was a place that was real and that you could actually eat at. So I did! And I'm pretty sure it was good! I only qualify that because it isn't food that necessarily yells at you to let you know it's good. I got a plate of grilled lamb chops on linguine, with some garlic spread and balsamic, as well as a cup of leek and lemon soup. It all tasted good, and (and this will sound cliche, but it's true so I've gotta say it) felt honest. Gardens of Salonica doesn't seem to be trying to impress you. They just make quality Greek food. Even the interior had some nice pieces of earthy sculpture art hanging here and there, but it just felt natural and unfussy, and the signs outside are hand-painted in a way that says "We didn't hand paint these signs because it was cool and artisanal, we just thought it was nicer to hand paint the signs." So, yeah, I'm totally on board with Gardens of Salonica. Also I just realized (this very moment) they gave me lambchops even though I ordered the lamb riblet special. Crap.

03.22.2017 - by Steve
Gino'sNortheast Minneapolis
Chicken parm

Gino's is a minor miracle. It's a small and unfussy new restaurant and bar in Northeast that specializes in chicken parm and meatballs and lasagna and basic dumb hearty red sauce, refreshingly free of irony, hype, and affectation—there's no mention of "farm to table" ingredients, there's no menu of house-distilled sambuca, there's no menu item that's "a new take" on anything—it's just some delicious damn Italian food in a relaxed bar environment at a decent price. I'm so happy this place exists.

So what I ate (if you're curious) is I got the chicken parm, with a side of spaghetti and a side of broccolini. The parm itself was damn near perfect, fried and crispy and cheesy and plentiful. The spaghetti was good, but served a little oddly; it was in a little cup over to the side of the chicken, like how you'd get a side of beans at a barbecue place. Weird, but hey, whatever. But for as good as the parm and the red sauce were, the broccolini, to my surprise, was actually the highlight of the meal. It was pan fried in some garlic butter, and then finished with a small handful of pickled red pepper, basically juiced right into the pan. It was the mostly intensely flavorful broccoli I've ever had. Super delicious.

The problem, however, is twofold, and contradictory. 1.) I was only person there. Well, after two others left at least. But the point is, Gino's is new and great, but it's not doing business. On one hand, this is great, because it's usually damn-near impossible to get a table at a new restaurant in this town without going through annoying hoops and fighting with a hundred other cool people trying to go there before all their friends. On the other, of course, is that an empty restaurant usually turns into a closed restaurant very quickly. So, hey, people, go to Gino's! 2.) It's apparently owned by the people behind The Lyndale Tap. Which makes me think it's very much setting itself up to open more locations around the suburbs eventually. Which isn't inherently bad, but admit it, it's a little annoying. So for now, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of Gino's Parm before it turns in to the next Buca di Beppo. Join me!


(1)
02.27.2017 - by Steve
Young JoniNortheast Minneapolis
Pizza, ribs, bibim salad

I usually hate the word "pretentious" as a critique of a thing or a person or a place—it's too easy, too vague, and too often thrown out as a thoughtless deflection, a defense against having to think too hard or imagine art's possibilities. Calling things "pretentious" is how the good guys lose elections, and how Marvel movies break box office records. But still: Young Joni is fucking pretentious.

Young Joni is also fucking delicious. So you can see how I'm having a hard time working through my feelings here. But look. The front doors have hidden handles. You have to figure out how to open the doors. The hostesses in front need to basically show everybody how to get in. The bar is a secret bar. It's around the corner in a hidden door, with only a long red light to show you where it is. Why? Who knows. Inside, it's all bare wood, mid century chairs, and vintage dishware. They serve drinks in Peanuts and Looney Toons glasses. Why? Who knows. The drink menu is in an old photo album, featuring old photos. Of who? Who knows. And—excuse me for italicizing this, but it needs to be done—they play their music on a reel-to-reel. Jesus christ. And yeah, this might just be "quirky" rather than "pretentious," making use of old hi-fi technology. But according to the mustachio'd mixologist, all the music is downloaded digitally and given to a company in Chicago who takes the mixes and transfers it to reel-to-reel tape. This is literal pretension. There's nothing vintage about it. They just want to be the one restaurant in the city using a goddamn reel-to-reel player in their secret hidden bar. Good lord. We don't need this. Northeast doesn't need this. Nobody needs this. This isn't Chicago. This isn't Brooklyn. This is insanity.

But remember when I said it's fucking delicious? It is. Because (as you know, of course), Young Joni is run by the woman behind Pizzeria Lola, which I would say is not pretentious, and is maybe probably the best wood fired pizza in town. So behind all the vintage glasses and reel-to-reels and million dollar interior design buildout, Young Joni is basically Lola with an expanded, Asian-focused (rather than Italian) menu. And since you've had Lola's Korean short rib pizza, you know what you're in for. So what I had was the spare ribs—delicious, but not quite as good as the best legit barbecue ribs in town—the Korean short ribs—a happy accident that the waitress accidentally brought to the table, and were absolutely fantastic—a bibim grain salad—which was basically a cold, vegetarian bibimbap bowl and was delightful—and best of all: the Parisian pizza. I'm not sure if Lola serves the Parisian, but it's basically prosciutto, caramelized onion, pickled mustard seed, and arugula. It was honestly one of the best pizzas I've had in a long time. Right up there with Lola's Korean pizza, maybe even better. Nothing too crazy about its flavors, but just a nice, perfectly balanced concoction. So, yeah, as far as the food goes, I'm all in on Young Joni. It's completely wonderful. I just... it's like... can we not with all the bullshit?

02.27.2017 - by Steve
Bad WaitressNortheast Minneapolis
Reuben

Bad Waitress? Um, more like Bad Restaurant.

02.08.2017 - by Steve
Crescent Moon BakeryNortheast Minneapolis
Pizza

I think I've written about Crescent Moon on here before, probably years ago. So, so many years ago. But I just had to chime in about it once more here, because I can't stress it enough: Crescent Moon, the Afghan bakery on Central, makes fantastic pizza. They also make fantastic kebabs and goat curries. It's really one of the most interesting food places we have in this city.

02.05.2017 - by Steve
1029 BarNortheast Minneapolis
Lobster roll

The Smack Shack downtown is very annoying, and you should not go there. It's basically like if you dropped a harbor-side Boston tourist trap restaurant-theme-park in the middle of Minneapolis and filled it with every young Target executive trying to find a happy hour close to his new condo and every bachelorette party who was too late in getting reservations to Chino Latino. Which is unfortunate, because their lobster rolls are pretty good. Well lucky for you there's the 1029 Bar! Because—and this isn't so much a secret as it is something people just don't really know—the Smack Shack sells lobster rolls at the 1029! Not just lobster rolls, either, but basically their full menu. I don't really understand why this is the case, but I'm not going to think too hard about it. Point is, it's a decent-to-good neighborhood bar, where you can get a good-to-very-good lobster roll (which may or may not be a little too salty), and you don't feel like a douchebag for eating there.