05.14.2020
Little Wings
Zephyr

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

05.09.2020
Pure X
Pure X

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

04.28.2020
Gaytheist
How Long Have I Been On Fire

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

04.28.2020
Nicolas Jaar
Cenizas

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

04.28.2020
Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters

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

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

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

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

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

04.18.2020
The Mountain Goats
Songs for Pierre Chuvin

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

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

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

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

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

04.17.2020
Laura Marling
Song For Our Daughter

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

04.17.2020
Hailu Mergia
Yene Mircha

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

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

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

03.28.2020
Fluisteraars
Bloem

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

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

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

03.26.2020
French Vanilla
How Am I Not Myself?

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

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

5th wave ska.

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

03.17.2020
Snarls
Burst

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

02.16.2020
Walter Martin
The World at Night

Charming.

02.11.2020 - by Steve
AlmaNortheast Minneapolis
Turkey burger

You might've seen the Alma turkey burger on my big Best Food of 2019 list, and then started scrolling and scrolling scrolling to find my writeup about it, and subsequently torched your laptop in protest of its absence. You might've done that. Sorry, I hadn't actually written about the dang thing yet.

The gist is that Alma is obviously an extremely good restaurant. And in recent years they opened a new cafe that is connected to the restaurant and hotel!? Wow, a hotel. Anyway when I was back in the Cities over Christmas, we wanted to hit up Al's Breakfist (RIP RIP RIP RIP RIP fuck everything there is no longer anything good in this shit world of ours RIP RIP), but the line was too long. So while searching for a backup, Erin noticed that Alma's cafe does a brunch and lunch menu every day—shocking to me because I had no idea they even served food, I just thought it was a coffee shop. So we went there instead, noticed plenty of open tables on a weekday morning,

I shouldn't be surprised that Alma makes an amazing turkey burger, but holy cow Alma makes an amazing turkey burger. It's perfect. Moist, flavorful, topped with just enough—and the perfect balance of—toppings. Absolutely loved it. And absolutely bummed that I could've been eating there the whole time I lived in Northeast.

05.24.2018 - by Steve
Crepe & SpoonNortheast Minneapolis
Peanut butter and jelly

You can probably imagine my shock and despair when I looked at the menu board at Crepe & Spoon, and saw that all but two flavors of their ice cream was vegan. Vegan ice cream!, I thought, This is bullshit! That's not even ice cream, there's no cream in it! Nowhere on the sign outside, or in the name of the place, does it say "Vegan" ice cream! False advertising! Shenanigans! Shenanigans!

Then you can also imagine my shock and bewilderment when I took a bite of this vegan ice cream product—peanut butter and jelly flavored—and it was creamy and sweet and gall dang delicious! The secret is that they use coconut milk instead of milk. Which adds up. So really any flavor you get—even peanut butter and jelly—is going to taste a little like coconut, which is weird for peanut butter and jelly. But whatever.

05.22.2018 - by Steve
Dusty'sNortheast Minneapolis
Dago

I've gone my whole adult life assuming Dusty's dago sandwiches had marinara on them. Am I wrong? 1 point deduction, but still a solid sandwich.

05.01.2018 - by Steve
Holy Land DeliNortheast Minneapolis
Philly cheesesteak

You might not believe me, but I'm going to say it anyway: the Holy Land has one of the best Philly cheesesteaks in the city. Not the best—that honor still goes to the former Galooney's, now Red's Savoy on Hennepin—but if you're dumb enough to make a trip to Holy Land and order something other than some delicious shawarma or falafel, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Hai HaiNortheast Minneapolis
Balinese chicken, Vietnamese crepes

If anyone has told you that omg Hai Hai is amazing, and you couldn't help but feel that they were conflating their excitement over another new and novel restaurant with actual quality... strike that from your mind. Because omg Hai Hai is amazing.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
The Sheridan RoomNortheast Minneapolis
Fried chicken, mac and cheese

I have a deep, long, weird history with the Sheridan Room. So deep, long, and weird that I don't even want to go there. Basically: it's the location that used to be The Modern, my favorite place in the world, and I actually did some design work for them, so actually I probably shouldn't be reviewing it at all. But: my fried chicken was nice, if a little overcooked, but the mac and cheese was seriously some of the best mac and cheese I've had in years. I still wish it was the Modern though.

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!


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