2021-10-20
Sufjan Stevens
A Beginner's Mind

Sufjan Stevens has been in the mix for so long now. Michigan was like, what, 20 years ago? So long! And what's interesting is that, this whole time (so long), every Sufjan release has felt like some sort of event. They've been grand experiments, comforting returns to form, stylistic left turns, theatrical projects, deeply personal confessions. Whether or not they've all been successful (though he does have a better 20-year batting average than most), they've all felt like something happening. A Sufjan release makes you notice.

A Beginner's Mind is the first new Sufjan album that I can really remember that just kinda came out and that's that. I think there's a bit of a theme to it: it's technically an album co-attributed to Angelo De Augustine, written and recorded by the two of them during the pandemic, locked up in a cabin somewhere, seemingly writing songs about the movies they were watching and books they were reading. Or something like that? The point is that isn't really important in this case. It's not a grand testament about life and the cosmos. It's not a confessional ode to his parents. It's just a nice collection of songs, maybe his best in a handful of years. A comforting return to form.

2021-10-17
Low
HEY WHAT

I had a borderline religious experience listening to this album last week and extraordinarily high volume while walking around the city late at night. I'm certain it's the best Low album and I'm not sure when I'll ever listen to it again.

2021-10-17
Shannon Lay
Geist

This is a mostly straightforward folkie Americana singer-songwriter album, but it's an awfully good one.

2021-10-17
Sweeping Promises
Hunger For a Way Out

The first couple tracks on this album got me real excited to hear a new post punk band that eschews post punk monotony and revels in melody. Then the rest of the tracks just kinda do post punk stuff.

2021-09-28
Fluisteraars
Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking

Fluisteraars has done this to me twice now. They got on my radar a couple years ago by releasing one of the most interesting black metal tracks I've ever heard—interesting in that it didn't seem to have much interest in black metal orthodoxy, occasionally throwing in some alt rock power chords and some actual humane vocals. Then they put their first full-length out, and seemed mostly to fall back into your standard black metal. I was bummed.

But then I kept listening to it. Something kept pulling and pulling me back, and I started to hear that humanity inside of it, even without any of the alt-rock tricks. It ended up being one of my faves of that year, and I listened to it a ton.

The same thing seems to be happening with this new one. The band recorded it almost on a whim, with the intention of creating something lo-fi and honest, the sound of a band in a room. And just like last time, my immediate reaction was disappointment. Because, well, it sounded lo-fi and like a few guys screaming in a room. But also like last time, I keep coming back to it, and man I think I like it.

If you sat me down and asked me to describe to you what makes Fluisteraars good, I couldn't do it. I don't know. I don't know what they're doing that other black metal bands aren't, I just feel it when I hear it. There's just more passion, more desperation, more soul in the sounds that they make. The screaming feels more human, the drums are hit with a little more catharsis, the guitars feel like they're in a room instead of plugged into a 4-track. And I guess also that they actually play melodies. Simple ones, but melodies nonetheless, which turn into earworms. There's a few other odd bits on this album that make for something—extended drum breakdowns, some trancy shit—but mostly it's Fluisteraars doing their Fluisteraars thing. And at this point I'm fully on board wherever they want to take me.

2021-09-28
Johnny Football Hero
Complacency

I don't know if this is an EP or a full-length or maybe like a "mini album," but I'm not going to try to sort that out now. Because it's mostly not that interesting.

I'm just posting this to stan for (please remind me to change that to something else when I get a minute. I really hate using "stan for" as a phrase) the first two songs on this thing. "Cap'n Oblivious (Deficit)" and "41". Boy this paragraph has been a punctuation nightmare, I'm going to go ahead and start a new paragraph.

Anyway as you can fucking obviously tell by the band's name, Jonny Football Hero is an emo band. Or rather somewhere on the emo-hardcore-power-pop spectrum. I don't know. And most of this little album see that descriptor through. But those first two tracks, they rip. Like balls to the wall, no expense spared, conga drum breaks and blazing guitar solos, throat destroying prog-core. Prog-core? Sure. Anyway, those first two track seriously rule and then the rest of the record is mostly whatever. Anyway.

2021-09-19
Nala Sinephro
Space 1.8

This is a kinda spacey kinda electronic jazz trio album that still mostly sounds like a traditional jazz trio album, which has been getting rave reviews in the last few weeks. Honestly I don't hear much remarkable from it yet; it's good, sure! But not sure what else it has to offer yet. But it has really great cover art so I'm going to stick with it for a while.

2021-09-18
Deafheaven
Infinite Granite

At first, this album bummed me out because Deafheaven no longer really sounds like Deafheaven. Shit, they sound more like Failure than Deafheaven. Which should be exciting for me, but mostly just leaves me confused.

But then after running through the album once or twice, I found myself continually coming back to it. Trying to crack its code, trying to connect the dots of how the end of almost every track kinda ruled, but it took work to get there each time.

Well the ends kinda ruled because they sound like Deafheaven. Fucking big and fucking huge and fucking metal and fucking somehow simultaneously something altogether outside metal. Like Deafheaven. It's all the stuff leading up to it which just sounds weirdly like somewhat psych-y alt rock with kinda weak vocals and way too much tinkly delay guitar that turns me off. So ultimately, I just don't think this thing is going to sit with me for the long run.

2021-09-01
Turnstile
GLOW ON

I absolutely love this album and I wish I was 22 again so I could go lose my shit at one of their shows.

2021-08-11
Typical Sisters
Love Beam

Cool, lively, Tortoise-y, post-jazz guitar jams that make for a very nice listen while doing other things, but I don't think I'm going to be telling all my friends about Typical Sisters for the rest of the year. I mean I just had to look up that they're called Typical Sisters because I've forgotten their band name a dozen times already.

2021-08-02
Laura Mvula
Pink Noise

Laura Mvula finally came back after like 6 years with a new album, and it's inexplicably an 80s-inspired, wet-drum dance party, which is better than that flippant description would lead you to imagine, but still nothing I really need in my rotation.

2021-07-22
King Crimson
Three of a Perfect Pair

Nobody ever told me that Three of a Perfect Pair rules. Like it's kinda like Discipline, and I've always liked Discipline but it's never been my favorite or anything. This one came later and I always thought it was, like, King Crimson's ReLoad. Well, Beat was ReLoad so this is more like ReReLoad.

But nope. Spanks.

2021-06-24
Japanese Breakfast
Jubilee

The first Japanese Breakfast album was real good. The next one wasn't as good. This one isn't as good, but it's sure better than the last one.

Well, no. Actually this might be better than the first one? Maybe? I just get confused because the first one has "Everybody Wants To Love You" on it, which is such a good song that it warps the gravity of all the other songs around it. So really I don't even know how good that album is. But I also know it's the best thing anyone has ever recorded.

This one only has "Be Sweet," which is only the second best song they ever recorded, even though it would maybe be another band's best song if another band had written it. But alas Japanese Breakfast is the unlucky band who wrote "Everybody Wants To Love You," and I'm sitting here trying to do the math.

2021-06-17
Black Midi
Cavalcade

Black Midi sounds like King Crimson now and I think that's a great decision on their part.

2021-05-20
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy
Superwolves

Every time Will Oldham releases something new, I immediately think "It's his best album in a decade!", and then immediately forget about it. But I think this one might actually be the one.

2021-05-09
Arooj Aftab
Vulture Prince

Arooj Aftab makes music that lands somewhere between Jose Gonzalez, Nick Drake, and Sade, all filtered through the melodic intuition of someone raised with a deep love and knowledge of her native Pakastani music. It's totally beautiful, and flawless from top to bottom. Even the somehow-not-regrettable reggae track.

2021-10-17
Bolivian Llama PartyQueens
Pork chola sandwich

This is embarrassing and off-brand for me, but I like that Bolivian Llama Party is cool. So much stuff in my neighborhood is relentlessly authentic, hyper regional restaurants opened by first-generation immigrants mostly making food for their fellow expatriates and the occasional curious neighbor, with little-to-no effort put into the kind of brand-building bullshit that circles around our friends over in, for instance, the entire north half of Brooklyn. This what we always say we want, of course, these mom-n-pop-hole-in-wall beacons of authenticity. And they're great and I love them all! Don't confuse those hyphens for snark!

Bolivian Llama Party, well I mean it's called Bolivian Llama Party. Their logo is a llama in a birthday hat. There are dozens (maybe 100?) South American restaurants in this part of Queens, almost all of which conform to some level of the hole-in-wall authenticity, occasionally adopting a sleeker club vibe, all for the most part orbiting around similar collections of menu items, relative to their respective countries of origin. (And, again, that's great!). But Bolivian Llama Party is over here with fun fusiony sandwiches, loaded poutine-adjacent french fries, fun experimental ice creams, jackfruit meat replacements! Fried chicken sandwiches, dammit!

To all of which you'd usually say "okay, whatever, sounds like some shit you could find at any food hall between Greenpoint and the Lower East Side." Heck I think Bolivian Llama Party had a kiosk in a Manhattan food hall which has since closed. But I'm realizing that there's so little of that stuff around here that getting just a little bit of it is actually fun and exciting.

Furthermore, it's delicious! It's really good! I don't have a single complaint about any of it! And for being cool, it's not that cool.

2021-10-17
La EspigaQueens
Barbacoa tacos

Corona Queens is full of authentic Mexican restaurants and taquerias, but something about La Espiga feels extra authentic. During the week, it's one of a countless number of basic holes in the wall, pretty standard menu as far as I can tell, they make their own tortillas, totally decent. But on weekends—and only on weekends—they sell their homemade barbacoa, and they become Superman.

And you can tell it's homemade, because they cook the stuff up in a big ol' pot right there in the front window, slop it onto a cutting board and chop it to sell by the pound and in tacos and on platters to seemingly everyone who frequents the place on weekends. I went with the tacos, and while it wasn't to the "omg I might cry" level that Birria Landia first got me to (although between birria and barbacoa, even though we're talking slow cooked red meat, we're still talking two different flavor profiles), it still fully impressed me. Rich and tender and luscious and simple, on a perfect homemade tortilla.

Meanwhile they've also got some of the best horchata around. This place is really a dream.

2021-09-28
CHEO GOD.ZIPQueens
Korean fried chicken

I'll get this out of the way: This restaurant is called CHEO GOD.ZIP. That is the name of the restaurant. It's named after a .zip file. I've searched around, and can find no reason to explain why they named it that, or what it means, or anything. It's just one of those cases (I guess?) of an Asian-to-English language/culture translation getting borked in the process, and everyone just accepting the outcome and moving on.

I only stumbled upon CHEO GOD.ZIP when I was biking out in the super Korean part of Flushing last week. I was thinking about going back to this other place called The Coop to have Korean fried chicken and watch the Monday Night Football game, when I looked up and saw that completely maniac incongruous title up above the restaurant. At first all I wanted to do was immediately take a picture and post it on social media to receive the requisite lols, but I quickly noticed that they made fried chicken. "Hmm," I thought. Then I noticed a TV above the bar, playing the football game. "Double hmm," I thought. At this point there was basically no reason not to eat at CHEO GOD.ZIP.

The restaurant itself isn't really as batshit as I'd hoped, all things considered. But aside from the occasionally boffo choices in menu organization (and pizza toppings), this is basically your standard Korean fried chicken bar. This leads me to a larger thought: much like New York pizza, I'm starting to believe that there's little to no variation in quality between Korean fried chicken places. It's seemingly quite good wherever you get it, and it never strays too far from the norm, flavor-wise. Again: they're all great! Delicious every time. But I have a hard time trying to place CHEO GOD.ZIP above or below Bonchon or Pelicana or Unidentified Flying Chickens or or or. It's all just kinda equally good.

What really makes CHEO GOD.ZIP stand out though, is their potato wedges. Honestly, probably the best potato wedges I've ever had. Crispy and precisely fried on the outside, creamy on the inside, not too fat and not too thin. If I have any complaint it's that maybe that could've used a litttttttttle more seasoning. But whatever. They were heavenly.

All paired with yr standard pickled radish cubes and a totally unnecessary cabbage salad, and CHEO GOD.ZIP is a perfectly capable little joint.

I'm going to hit Submit on this post now, just a little bit nervous that the title is going to cause a catastrophic failure on my site. Or set off Google's anti-virus warnings and leave it unreadable. This could be the end, my friends. If it is, it's been an honor serving as your music and food blogger.

2021-09-19
Gelato & Co.Queens
Gelato

I had some dark cherry gelato from this extraordinarily ordinary gelato shop in Astoria, and it was real good. Like real real good. I don't think I've ever picked dark cherry as an ice cream (gelato, custard, froyo, whatever!) flavor in the past, but I think I'm fully on board. Real good.

(I followed this gelato up with some bolognese from a place across the street, which was totally fine but I think I'll skip that whole write up for now.)

2021-09-18
Moonlight GrillQueens
Lamb chops

I got these here lambchops from the Moonlight Grill—a deceptively generic looking Middle-Eastern-Mediterranean counter-service grill in the middle of the heavily Bangladeshi-Pakastani-Tibetan-Nepalese part of the neighborhood—and they were an absolute treat. And with two added bonuses:

One, the whole plate, even in a take-out tray, looked as lusciously cared-for as every photo on this place's menu. I watched the owner plate every dish behind the counter, and this was a man who cared about his craft. The cook at the grill, meanwhile, didn't seem to be afforded the same amount of patience. But grilled a damn fine lamb chop nonetheless.

And two, in a move possibly inspired by the neighborhood's heavily Latin contingent a few blocks down, or maybe because it's one of the world's great condiments, they were served with a side of chimichurri. These lambchops were just about perfect to begin with, but the combination of chimichurri and Middle Eastern seasoning is a damn revelation.

I realize most of these Queens-heavy posts are for places you (who even are you?) will probably never visit. But whatever. Moonlight Grill! Don't leave Manhattan to get it or anything, but if you live in Jackson Heights or Sunnyside, shit!

2021-09-01
Fat Cat FlatbreadQueens
Pork flatbread

A magical secret of Flushing (and other heavily Chinese neighborhoods around here) is the food courts. Like yeah, walk around outside and you'll see nothing but Chinese restaurant after Chinese restaurant, but occasionally in a mall or behind a grocery store or, in this case, a disarmingly generic looking storefront called "New York Food Court," you'll find dozens more, all of which specialize in one or two dishes, and almost all of which are as good or better than anything you'll get at a restaurant.

Anyway I've got a low key goal of trying to hit every place here at the New York Food Court. I had some fine dumplings and some good noodles, but the one I want to mention is Fat Cat Flatbread. I guess this particular type of Chinese flatbread—not to be confused with the sort of American gastro-pub nonsesnse-pizza—is a thing in some regions, but I hadn't heard of it before. Sort of like a scallion pancake I guess, but not exactly. It's basically two big ol' (but very thin) pieces of crispy fried bread which have a sort of spread of pork in between them. Maybe it's all fried together? I'm not totally sure. The interesting thing is that the pork really is almost totally in paste-form, you're not getting chunks or anything. I guess now that I typed that out it sounds gross, but I swear it's not. It's super savory and deeply pleasurable. And it comes in a little bag that's cute as shit and almost impossible not to post on Instagram.

2021-09-01
EimQueens
Hainanese chicken rice

Eim is a restaurant that serves just one thing: khao mun kai. Basically the Thai variation of Hainanese chicken. A lightly marinated chicken poached and served with rice, cucumber, and a couple hot sauces. That's it. It's the only thing on their menu, and it's delish.

2021-09-01
ProntitoQueens
Colombian hot dog

All I'm really going to do in this post is list everything that's on this hot dog: Bacon, ranchero salsa, ketchup, mustard, pink sauce, coleslaw, crushed up potato chips, and quail eggs. All of that, and I ordered it without the pineapple sauce, which 5 separate people working at this place thought I was crazy for doing.

And this isn't even particularly remarkable as far as Colombian hot dogs go! It's more or less the standard set of toppings at any given snack joint around here! But I will add that this Prontito place seems like a particularly good one; they've got good looking burgers and arepas and fries and everything else too.

But combining this monstrosity of a hot dog with the standard Colombian plato tipico, I don't understand how Colombians live past the age of 33. This cuisine runs circles around your most slovenly small town midwestern fare.

2021-08-16
Four Four South VillageQueens
Taiwanese Beef Noodles in Spicy Sauce

Taiwanese noodles are the noodles for me.

(I think I posted about a different Taiwanese noodle place earlier this year and might've typed that exact statement. I apologize for the self plagiarism, but also I guess that just means it's true.)

2021-08-15
Lety's BakeryQueens
Pistachio cheesecake

Lety's is a pretty-good-but-not-exceptional bakery down the block, whose three primary assets are: 1.) It's down the block; 2.) It's pretty good; and 3.) It's remarkably cheap. Also important I guess is 4.) It primarily features desserts, cakes, mousses, that sort of thing. I don't think I've written about it before, because, you know, not much to write about.

That was before I got the pistachio cheesecake. This stuff is something to write about. I don't even know if it's because of the quality of the cheesecake or Lety's ability to make cheesecake, but I'd just never had pistachio cheesecake before! It's such a perfectly pleasing combination! And yeah I suppose Lety's does a good job of it, it's got chunks of pistachio in there, it's clearly not some pre-made mix of fake green pistachio flavor.

Anyway, this is some damn fine cheesecake.

2021-08-11
Stand Alone CheeseQueens
Ham sandwich

There's a cheese shop on the ground floor of my building. It's real cute, it's called Stand Alone Cheese and has this little cartoon logo of a Swiss cheese with legs. I mean, really it's one of the few legitimately "gentrified" places in this neighborhood, which is probably a bad thing, but I really do mean few. There's this and a wine shop a block down, and that's about it.

Anyway I don't really care about cheese. But this place sells these ham sandwiches, that have the best fucking ham on them. I've never in my life thought about one type of deli sliced ham being better than another, ham is ham right? But this ham. I think it's French. And it costs way more than deli ham should ever cost. But they slap just a couple slices of this ham onto an exquisite baguette with some comte cheese and a swipe of butter, and it's just a fucking pleasure to eat.

2021-08-11
Papa's KitchenQueens
Chicken adobo, beef kare kare, noodles

There's this little Filipino restaurant just like two blocks from here, that I barely knew was there until earlier this summer. We finally found the opportunity to go, which was very exciting because I love Filipino food.

Turns out maybe I don't love Filipino food? I don't know. Actually the more I think about it, I've barely ever had Filipino food in my life; the only place I can think of in the Twin Cities had just opened in the year before I moved here. But the food I had there was incredible. So this is probably unfair for me to even review. But while everything at Papa's looked incredible, and was all seemingly homemade and well-reviewed and of an obviously high quality, I just didn't super enjoy eating it. The adobo was pretty good, but that's all soy sauce and sugar, so it's hard to really screw it up. The kare kare—a sort of peanut-based curry, almost like a masaman—was dishearteningly flavorless. But like, maybe that's what it's supposed to taste like? I don't know! And the fried noodles had an odd edge to them, like they were heavy with tart citrus, but not enough of anything else to tame it. I don't know!

All I do know is whatever that place was in St. Paul (which is seemingly no longer in business?), that it was astonishingly good, and Papa's, as much as I was ready for it to astonish me, left me unstonished. Bummer. Maybe I'll try it once more, try some other stuff.

Oh and the waiter was, as they say, a lot. One of those that seems cool and fun at first, but by the end of the meal you feel like you just need them to stay out of your personal space. But that's a whole story and who has the time.

2021-08-02
Pio PioQueens
Chicken, arroz chaufa

Why is Peruvian fried rice always better than Chinese fried rice? What are they putting in there? What does Peru know that the rest of us don't?