05.31.2019
Sing Sinck Sing
Are Sing Sinck Sing

Sing Sinck Sing is a new project (are you keeping track?) of one of the ringleaders of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Efrim Manuel Menuck. It's a beauty, an intense collection of droning analog oscillators and maybe some guitars and some voices, still as harmonic as you might expect from the Godspeed guy. But what strikes me most about the Godspeed guy, as I've come to realize in the last couple years, is he really might be one of the best writers in music, which of course is ironic considering how most of his music is instrumental. I believe I went into detail about this theory back when I wrote up the latest Godspeed album, but just the song titles on this Sing Sinck Sing record are captivating to read. "Do The Police Embrace?" / "A Humming Void In An Emptied Place" / "Joy Is On Her Mount And Death Is At Her Side" / "Fight The Good Fight" / "We Will" (these last two on their own might sound too college-freshman on their own, but in the context of his decades of work there's a certain pugnacity in their basicness). Even the name "Sing Sinck Sing" is an enigmatic wordfuck.

05.30.2019
George McCrae
Rock Your Baby

I was shocked to learn, just last year, that Yo La Tengo's modern classic "You Can Have It All" is in fact a cover of an old 70s soul/disco song. I suppose it makes some sense; doing tasteful covers of record-bin classics is a longstanding part of Yo La Tengo's modus operandi, and the song always had a sprightly bounce that stood out on that album. Anyway, I found the original on YouTube, enjoyed it, and moved on with my life.

So then at the beginning of this week, I checked on in Stereogum's "Number Ones" article, part of a daily series running down every Billboard #1 single since the 1950s (it's truly a great series, giving new context to songs you've heard thousands of times, and offering some surprises as well. Recommended!), and that day's #1 was "Rock Your Baby", an early proto-disco hit by George McCrae. You've heard the song before, I'm sure, but as I was listening to it, something struck me: it sounded like Yo La Tengo. I mean, it didn't sound like Yo La Tengo—nobody was ever going to think "Rock Your Baby" was a deep cut from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, but it had this droning organ and crude synthetic drum that felt like something Yo La Tengo would do, as if "Rock Your Baby" was a part of their musical DNA, maybe from their youth. Then reading down the article a little, it's mentioned that McCrae is the one that originally recorded "You Can Have It All"! I had no idea that was his song when I made the connection from a different song! But really, something that George McCrae was doing seeped its way into those mad genius Hoboken Gen Xers 15 years later.

Part 3 of this tale is that while I was trying to unravel this "Rock Your Baby"/"You Can Have It All" situation, I found myself really, truly enjoying this record. Disco was just becoming a thing, and this (as you can read in that Stereogum article) was technically the first ever #1 song to be recorded specifically for disco clubs. But it doesn't have that gold-foiled, coked-out jumpsuit vibe that later disco would piledrive into the floor, it has some gentle soul to it. The whole album is a completely enjoyable listen, and I've been putting it on a lot this week. I'm not going to try to push some nonsense "George McCrae was a secret genius" line, because that's not the case—although "You Can Have It All" and "I Get Lifted" (later sampled on "Gin And Juice" and 100 other 90s hip hop tracks) are damn fine pieces of record-making. But this album is just a total pleasant surprise for me, and I'm going to keep coming back to it for a while.

05.29.2019
The Shins
Oh Inverted World

Imagine a world where the Shins released Oh Inverted World and then broke up or disappeared or perished in a plane crash or imploded into a black hole or whatever else would lead them to not release any music anymore. Also maybe Zach Braff also found that same fate in that same black hole. Oh Inverted World would be legendary today. Sure, it's always been admired and lauded to an extent, but I think that the subsequent years of consistently okay-to-good Shins releases have obscured it.

Listen to this album with fresh ears. It's phenomenal. Everything about it is perfect, from the unique melodies (I love when a songwriter is able to find paths through chords that are fully their own, like musical fingerprints, which James Mercer does—or did—better than nearly anyone else in indie rock at the time), to beautifully expressionistic lyrics, 90% of which I have no idea what they even are to this day, simple instrumentation just barely twisted into a lo-fi psychedelic audio palette, flawless sequencing, upbeat jams, melancholy ballads, and a very pretty (albeit very early 00s) cover. It's all so simple, yet composed and performed so beautifully that it becomes its own (inverted?) world.

I wrote something like this in my post on the last Shins album, but to sum up: the Shins never went Full Weezer. They haven't embarrassed themselves, they haven't released any duds or genre experiments or collaborations with Billy Ray Cyrus. But there's been a slow dulling of the edges, that started all the way back with their follow up to this one. Things got shinier, the simplicity disappeared into studio perfection, and when that became too boring and they tried to move back into scarier territory, they'd seemingly gotten too good to accidentally create a work of transcendence like Oh Inverted World.

This has never been my favorite album, or even on my all time top 10 (if I was to make such a list). I have no particular emotional bonds with it, despite listening to it a lot in college, but it's not a specific nostalgia trip for me. But when I listen to it now, it's like a hot knife into my ribs. It's so pure and good. I've never broken down crying listening to it, but I wouldn't be surprised if that happens at least once by the time I'm 70.

05.20.2019
Vampire Weekend
Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend's Blonde. But not their Blonde on Blonde. Or is it Blond? That's what the cover says. No, I think it's Blonde.

04.29.2019
Sunn O)))
Life Metal

The guys from Sunn O))) dress like wizards, but Steve Albini actually is one.

04.29.2019
Possible Humans
Everybody Split

Possible Humans are extremely Melbourne in that weirdly specific way that bands from Melbourne are. Dry and jangly and direct and melodic with just a hint of bitterness. The first few songs are great, but then I zone out a little, so I don't know.

04.29.2019
Billy Woods
Hiding Places

Billy Woods isn't the most charismatic, energetic, transformative, convivial, melodic, magnetic, revolutionary, or even entertaining rapper, but he writes like a damn Pulitzer winner. Three brief excerpts:

But the sun crept,
diggin' at that empty house as the shadow stretched
The dog ran off, didn't come back yet

Overseas connection choppy, she's gettin' worse
Your sister talked to the nurse, everybody in church
Everybody wants to know if you comin'
But they won't say the words

I don’t wanna go see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

These are just three kinda random pulls, but every song on this album plays out with the tension and release of a very good short story. And not in like a "um actually rappers are really storytellers have you ever listened to Ghostface?" kind of way. Even though Ghostface is great. But Billy Woods is on his own level as far as wordsmithing goes. And the beats he works with are dark, minimal, and weird, making this whole album a gripping listen, if not a very fun one.

04.20.2019
George Harrison
All Things Must Pass

Have you ever noticed that the second disc of All Things Must Pass really sucks?

04.18.2019
Brutus
Nest

Brutus is a metal (post hardcore?) band from Belgium, with a rare triple threat drummer-slash-frontwoman, who sounds exactly like Bjork destroying her vocal chords to At The Drive In. The first two songs they released convinced me this would be the album of the year, and the album art was even engaging enough that I hauled myself all the way to Williamsburg to buy a physical copy of it on its release day. Two weeks later, I'm already kinda bored with it. After the initial excitement of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to some steely, reverby heaviness, you get a little sick of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to steely reverby heaviness. And also it's not actually Bjork.

04.09.2019
Wyes Blood
Andromeda

This is a very lovely album of graceful Laurel Canyon-inspired writer-pop, lush pristine and precise, and that's all I really have to say about it at the moment. I just wanted to post this right away because the album cover is so nice that I want it up at the top of this blog for a while.

04.06.2019
These New Puritans
Inside The Rose

This new These New Puritans album isn't as good as that old These New Puritans album. But it's still real good, in a way that music in 2019 rarely is. Slow, thoughtful, intense. I'm not going to sit and write a big obituary for Talk Talk's Mark Hollis (which is a huge bummer, and he's every bit the genius all the other obituaries have made him out to be), but These New Puritans really do feel to me like a 21st century continuity of Hollis's late Talk Talk and solo work. Not at all in a soundalike way, but in the way that they seem spiritually in touch with each deliberate sound they make. I have issues with some of their choices that I don't with Hollis (such as, why are so many of their instruments electronically programmed instead of recorded in studio?), but the effect in the end is nearly always beautiful.

(Side note: The CD version of Inside The Rose has fantastically designed packaging. Clear sleeves, overlapping printing, a unique booklet. I know nobody really buys CDs anymore [of course not "nobody," but that's the standard line], but it's worth checking out if you're in to this kind of thing.)

04.06.2019
Moon Tooth
Crux

When Moon Tooth's Chromaparagon came out a couple years ago, I liked the shit out of it. It was easily in my top 2 or 3 or 5 albums of that year, and I actually listened to it. A ton. It took a while to fully embrace it, because at first blush their music leans pretty heavily into the lamest of muses. Incubus, for one. Alien Ant Farm (even though, look, I kinda like Alient Ant Farm). Tool (sigh, same). And especially Dillinger Escape Plan, who isn't necessarily lame, but they're not really at the cutting edge of metal in the 20-teens. If you weren't really paying attention, Moon Tooth could strike you as a marginally progressive nu metal or post hardcore band, and then you'd never think about them again. This is what I nearly did at first, but some of their music was just too interesting to ignore. The more I listened, the more even the initially eye-rolling parts started to reveal themselves as subtly brilliant. Drum patterns played with rhythm while guitar lines went to surprising places; riffs would morph into new forms instead of repeating ad nauseam, and actually revealed an unpredictable, Mastodon influence that wasn't initially apparent; the singer didn't just sounds like The Guy From Incubus, but he actually found surprising and soulful melodies within the band's chaotic churn. And perhaps most amazingly, given the state of metal over the last, oh, 25 years, their music is fun. It's energetic, affirming, and downright joyful.I swear I listened to this fucker once a week the entire year of 2016.

Then a month ago, as I hoped might happen (they're from Long Island, and I'm now here in New York), I caught them live at a heavy metal bar in Greenpoint. The bar was over half empty, which is maybe to be expected because it was a weekday night and they hadn't yet released their new record (that this review is ostensibly about), but most simply because Moon Tooth is not a popular band. Did you read the first couple sentences of this post? They're not cool, their music is not en-vogue, and they are basically ignored by the metal cook kids table. Still, it was a bummer to see how few people actually came out to see this band, because shit: they put on a show. They play with energy and feeling like you barely see these days, the singer constantly jumping into the crowd, running back and forth (even running back to the bar to sing directly to seated drinkers, who may or may not have even been there for the show), guitar player fucking feeling it. But they weren't just a bunch of douchebags hamming it up on stage. They were total pros. They played flawlessly, tight as hell, and exploding with energy. Honestly one of the best performances I've seen a band give in a long, long time. I was double sold.

And now their sophomore album Crux is out. Honestly there's nothing terribly surprising on it, no major stylistic shifts, no huge surprises, except maybe for the proggy-ass double-time King Crimson saxophone breakdown at the end of the opening track, or the Van Halen influence that shows up for brief moments on two different songs. But it's fucking great, from front to back, in a way that confirms everything I'd thought about these guys in the last couple years. And more; I'm honestly at the point right now that I feel comfortable calling Moon Tooth one of the best metal bands working today. Full stop. I don't think many other people will jump on that train, but whatever. Maybe they speak to me in a way they don't speak to other people. Maybe they need to get some high profile gigs to convince the tastemakers of their value. Maybe their bass player needs to stop wearing a backwards baseball hat.

Crux rules. Moon Tooth rules. I promise my next post won't be as long.

01.21.2019 - by Steve
JojuQueens
Banh mi

The difference between NYC and Minneapolis (well, St. Paul) Vietnamese places is pretty noticeable. The Twin Cities are known as a pretty good area for Vietnamese food, and that's true, but that seems to come mostly in the form of mom-n-pop, hole in the wall joints. The exceptions are few—Ngon Bistro is maybe the only fine-dining Vietnamese spot, and only in the last couple years are places like Lu's trying fast-casual-ify the pho space. (I can't believe I just typed that). But all in all, Twin Cities Vietnamese feels very much like an immigrant group simply wanting to feed themselves and have a taste of home, and if curious Minnesotans want to get some lemongrass chicken, great.

In New York, meanwhile, Vietnamese feels much more like a trend. The restaurants are younger, cooler, expensiver. I've seen very few 'hole in the wall' banh mi joints, relative to NY's uber density of course, compared to MSP. And the cheaper, counter service ones are often more like the subject of this food post, Joju. Located in a very heavily Asian neighborhood in Queens (and I mean "Asian" non-accidentally; we're talking Korean restaurants next to Thai grocery stores next to specifically Taiwanese restaurants. American melting pot, etc. etc.), Joju is what one might call "cool". But not in a Williamsburg pink neon sense, more in an "anime sandwich mascots and K-pop record cover" sense. It also, like many of these places, touts itself almost as much as a bubble tea shop than it does a restaurant. Joju doesn't even have Coke!

But what they do have is delicious banh mi. We ordered two kinds, caramel pork and beef bulgogi. Oh, that's another thing—there seems to be some very blurred lines at NY banh mi shops in terms of which nation's cuisine is represented on this ostensibly Vietnamese sandwich. You're just as likely to see Korean bulgogi or Thai basil pork on the menu as the standard Vietnamese chicken or pork with pate. Which is fine by me. Anyway, the sandwiches were delicious. Maybe a little heavy on carrot, and the actual construction of the veggies and meat made for a slightly awkward eating experience, but they tasted great. They also represented one more difference that seems to separate NY banh mi from MSP banh mi: the bun was refreshingly soft. So many hole in the wall banh mi I'm used to seem to lean towards using chewy, crispy baguettes. But these NY versions are soft, and much easier to bite into. A much more satisfying experience in my opinion, and one that comes in to play with a lot of New York dough-based food, from pizza dough to bagels, simply to bread you're served at restaurants or find at bakeries. Whether it's the water or the high turnover or simply the quality of local bakeries, bread truly is better here than in the rest of the country. Crazy as it sounds.

So anyway, Joju. It's good. It's pretty deep into parts of Queens you might never go to, so maybe don't worry too much about it. There's probably others like it.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
Sorriso'sQueens
Meatball sandwich, sopressata sandwich

This is the most New York place in New York. I actually heard the guy behind the counter say "gabagool." And they make some damn fine sandwiches.

07.19.2018 - by Steve
JollibeeQueens
Fried chicken, spaghetti, cheeseburger

New York City! Perhaps the greatest culinary destination in the world! It's got everything! Pizza pie! A spicy a meat a ballsa! Bagels! Enough Michelin stars to light up the night sky! Invitation-only chef dinners, $500 a plate steakhouses, experimental ice cream speakeasies, authentic Puerto Rican food served by grandmas with Weber grills on the sidewalk. You can't throw a stick in New York without it hitting the best restaurant you've ever eaten at. Or it'll hit Jollibee.

I've been fascinated by Jollibee for nearly 10 years now. I have a gross fascination in general with regional chains; whenever I go on a road trip, I generally try to find some sort of fast food restaurant that is native to the place I'm in. Jollibee is sort of an extreme version of that. There are hundreds of Jollibee locations in the Philippines and south Asia, sort of a Filipino McDonalds. But when I heard that there was one single location in New York, right in the heart of Queens, it's been near the top of my list of NYC restaurant destinations. Near the top. So, yeah, it's taken me a while to get there. Until now!

And as is often the case with international interpretations of American cuisine, it's just a little off. The main draw here is fried chicken. Or as they call it, "Chickenjoy." Fine. And actually kinda spicy and decent. But the next big item is spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti. Although this is a bit of a regional take on the dish, with a sweeter and more bell-pepper-infused sauce than our traditional marinara. It almost tastes like ketchup with some spices. I know. Lastly, of course, are burgers. Their cheeseburger is actually nearly hidden on the menu, so it must not be a best seller. But interestingly, it was the best thing I had! It obviously wasn't a great burger, but it was very enjoyable! I'd honestly take it over a standard McDonalds burger if you were to make me choose. Oddly, it reminded me of when I was a kid and refused to eat Chinese food, and my parents would order me a cheeseburger at the Chinese restaurant. I don't know if it's the type of oil or what, but there's a very particular flavor to the char on the burger that I can't quite describe.

Anyway, Jollibee is weird. Real weird. I can't say you should go there, but if you are in New York for the 5th or 6th time and feel like treating yourself to something that's maybe the most New York of all.

08.08.2017 - by Steve
Yankee Clipper DeliQueens
Italian sandwich, rigatoni

This is the last in the surprisingly long collection of entries about my recent trip to New York! Because of the way I built this site and arranged these posts (and admittedly my own laziness, because I could easily swap them around), you need to scroll all the way down (keep scrolling!) to the first NYC entry about 15 posts down if you care to read them in order. Which you shouldn't.

Here's a weird one! So finally, after a day of flight delays and a cancellation, I'm about to go home. When my ride drops me off at La Guardia's Terminal 1, I'm immediately confused about where I am. See, Terminal 1 is apparently one of the oldest airport terminals still functioning in this country. It's basically one relatively small building, a beautifully designed and restored art-deco era hub, filled with marble floors and original 1930s aviation-inspired murals on the walls. But it still feels odd. Airports aren't like this anymore. It was quiet. And empty. And tiny. And there was only 1 place to eat, the depressingly-generic-looking Yankee Clipper Deli.

I had no idea this is what I was getting into, or else I would've grabbed lunch before leaving. But I had no choice. And then something funny happened: I actually walked in to the Yankee Clipper and looked at their food selection. It was legit! I mean, not like it was some amazing chef-focused restaurant or something, but this place was like a real NY neighborhood deli. They had Boars Head meats, a full made-to-order grill, and trays of shockingly-homemade-looking roasted chicken, rigatoni, roast veggies, and other Italian-American fare. I went with an Italian hoagie and a side of rigatoni. They made it fresh right there, quality meat, fresh-sliced, good produce, good roasted peppers, gave me a can of coke, and I checked out without having to wait in any line. And you know what? It was a damn good sandwich! And damn good rigatoni! And as I sat eating, the place filled up with more and more airport employees, who clearly knew about this place as some sort of La Guardia secret.

In the end, it was actually one of the most satisfying meals I had in NYC. Not the best, not by a long shot. But it was so nice and refreshing and easy, especially for an airport terminal, and especially since my expectations were so low. Then I bussed my tray, walked about 50 feet to the security line, which was nonexistent since there are only a small handful of flights that fly out of this weird little terminal, grabbed my flight and went home.

And now, back to your regular Minneapolis food nitpicking!

07.22.2017 - by Steve
BonchonQueens
Fried chicken

One of the only real food goals I had going into NYC was maybe a weird one. Thing is, you can get "good" food anywhere now. Minneapolis is just as much of a "food town" as anywhere else. Maybe there's not as many restaurants as New York or Chicago or San Francisco or whatever, but there's always places that are (more or less) as good as those places. But what we don't have are places like Bonchon—weird international (usually Asian) chain restaurants that have hundreds or thousands of locations in their native regions, but maybe just have one or two in the US, usually in New York or LA. My original goal was to go to Jollibee, a mega-popular fast food chain that started in the Philippines, to get some fried chicken and a burger and spaghetti. You know, just like in the Philippines. But I changed my mind when I noticed this place Bonchon, which is a Korean fried chicken chain. Because I've long had a yearning for this mysterious Korean spicy fried chicken, which I've read about and heard about as being amazing, but there's nowhere to get it here in the Twin Cities.

So I journey to Jackson Heights, Queens, which incidentally, is supposedly the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the world, and also incidentally, is where Jolibee is also located. When I found Bonchon, it surprised me, because it didn't look like a chain. It looked like a bar. My guess is that it used to be just some bar, but Bonchon bought the place and didn't really do anything other than slap their sign on it and maybe put up a random chicken-related picture on a wall here or there. The other thing that surprised me? I didn't really like it! The chicken was very crispy, which is maybe the point of Korean fried chicken, and the appeal of Bonchon in general? But to me it was way too crispy. And even then, the supposedly spicy chicken barely had any spice to it. There was hardly any flavor at all. Just mega crunchy, kinda bland, kinda dry chicken. I don't know. Very disappointing. Still probably than Jollibee would've been though.