12.30.2020
Steve's Favorite Music of 2020
A List

Boy what a year, huh? Okay, let's get on with it.

Favorite Albums
1. Hum - Inlet
2. Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters
3. Kahil El’Zabar - America the Beautiful
4. Snarls - Burst
5. Little Wings - Zephyr
6. The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin
7. Fluisteraars - Bloem
8. Deerhoof - Love Lore
9. Katatonia - City Burials
10. Adrianne Lenker - Songs and Instrumentals
11. Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
12. Jeff Rosenstock - No Dream
13. Keiyaa - Forever, Ya Girl
14. Kaatayra - Toda Historia pela Frenta
15. Wye Oak - EP
16. Blake Mills - Mutable Set
17. Future Islands - As Long As You Are
18. Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi - Fuubutsushi
19. Necrot - Mortal
20. Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas
21. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
22. Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi
23. Johanna Warren - Chaotic Good
24. Gaytheist - How Long Have I Been on Fire?
25. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full


The Annual Short List Of Albums That Are Unquestionably Excellent, But Are Too Intense, Long, Difficult, or Otherwise Exhausting To Listen To On A Level Which Would Lead Them To Become My "Favorite"
1. Fiona Apple - Fetch The Boltcutters*
2. The Microphones - Microphones in 2020
3. Armand Hammer - Shrines
4. Ka - Descendants of Cain

* Yes, I know that I also put Boltcutters on the regular list—all the way at #2 nonetheless! I know! But somehow that album belongs on both lists. It's unequivocally a masterpiece of an album, and I enjoyed the hell out of it when I listened to it over the first few days of its existence. It blew up in the culture at a time when we needed it, and it was a profound cultural experience. And it slaps. And yet, in the months since, with everything that's gone on in the world, I just feel like I can't go back to it. It already carries such a deep, weird, intense significance, that I don't know when or how anyone can go back to it and just give it a casual listen, singing along. It's weird man!


Favorite Songs:

1. Shamir - “On My Own”
2. Snarls - “Walk in the Woods”
3. Pure X - “Middle America"
4. Kahil El’Zabar - “America The Beautiful (Instrumental)” + “America The Beautiful”
5. Jeff Rosenstock - “Monday at the Beach”
6. Jeff Rosenstock - “Ohio Tpke”
7. Johanna Warren - “Rose Potion”
8. Little Wings - “It’s Only”
9. Destroyer - “Crimson Tide”
10. Katatonia - “Heart Set to Divide”
11. This Is the Kit - “Coming To Get You Nowhere”
12. Hum - “Shapeshifter”
13. The Beths - “I’m Not Getting Excited”
14. Moses Sumney - “Cut Me”
15. Wye Oak - “Walk Soft”
16. Fiona Apple - “Fetch the Boltcutters”
17. Adrianne Lenker - “Anything”
18. Jessy Lanza - “Anyone Around”
19. This Is The Kit - “This Is What You Did”
20. Run The Jewels - “Ooh LA LA”


Best Guitar Chord

1. Pure X - "Middle America"
If the first 10 seconds of this song was the entire album, it would probably be my album of the year. Just play it on repeat for a while, it's all I need.

12.30.2020
Loma
Dont Shy Away

I'm gonna post my Favorite Albums of the Year list tomorrow or the next day. Loma probably won't be on it. Sorry, Loma. But if you come back to me in, say, 4 months, I'd bet this would squeeze its way on, maybe somewhere near top half even. What I mean is it hasn't fully connected with me yet, but I can feel that something's there. It's just buried a bit and needs some time. Especially over another shitty few months of the shitty world and the cold air and hopefully some snow. Yeah, some snow would move this thing up to at least #7.

12.30.2020
Kaatayra
Toda História pela Frente

Lo-fi bedroom Brazilian rainforest black metal melted and deconstructed past the point of psychedelic and damn near back to where it started. If that sounds good to you, welcome.

12.30.2020
Keiyaa
Forever, Ya Girl

Lo-fi bedroom Erykah-Badu-ian neo soul melted and deconstructed past the point of psychedelic and damn near back to where it started. If that sounds good to you, welcome.

12.30.2020
Ambrose Akinmusire
on the tender spot of every calloused moment

Y'know, I don't usually like trumpet jazz. They're just so shrill. Except for Miles Davis, but that's fucking obvious.

Anyway Ambrose Akinmusire is trumpet jazz, but I actually like it. He kinda plays like Miles though.

12.30.2020
The Mountain Goats
Getting Into Knives

With the (glaring) exception of Songs for Pierre Chuvin, the Mountain Goats first full length album of the pandemic and a glorious return to the lo-fi tape deck recording of his early days, I could use the same boilerplate format to review this second album of the pandemic as I could with every Mountain Goats full length of the last, oh, 10 years. In short: {Album title} isn't bad by any means, but it lacks the energy of Darnielle's best work. Still, I think it might at least be a little better than {previous album}, but I'll have to sit with it for a while before I have any stronger feelings. {Steve then sits a little longer but ends up with no stronger feelings and never really returns to the album once the next one is released.}

Songs for Pierre Chuvin though. Fuckin rules.

12.30.2020
Adrianne Lenker
Songs and Instrumentals

Big Thief is on an untouchable run in the last couple years, and apparently this includes their lead singer's solo albums. I listened to this album (well, the songs album at least) once, and by the second listen I knew every song. I don't know how she does it.

12.15.2020
Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi
Fuubutsushi (風物詩)

This isn't the best jazz album of all time. Or the best jazz album of the year. I don't think it will make my top 10 albums of the year, maybe not even the top 20? There's nothing particularly profound about it, no boundaries being broken, no new musical voice that demands to be heard. I can't hum any of its melodies, I can't remember which track does what, or which is my favorite, and as of this moment I don't even remember the name of the ensemble that composed and performed it.

Still, Fuubutsushi is one of the most genuinely calming collections of music I've ever listened to. Just absolute laser-focused tranquility, every beat of every track. Start with some ECM jazz, a little Eno-level ambient chording, balance it out with some light chamber string work, sprinkle on some ethereal field recordings, and the occasional jingle of hand chime percussion. It's almost too much, leaning dangerously into farmers market yoga meditation CDs, or the in-store music at MUJI.

But fuck that, I love MUJI.

12.09.2020
This is the Kit
Off Off On

French post-indie-prog-jazz-folk. Saxophones and banjos and French accents. And jams.

11.13.2020
Kahil El'Zabar
Kahil El'Zabar's America the Beautiful

There's still hope for this country, and this album is proof.

11.02.2020
Future Islands
As Long as You Are

There's absolutely nothing about this new Future Islands album that makes it any different than their last two or three. When I heard the advance singles, I could only shake my head and sigh and admit that, after the bummer that was The Far Field maybe I was done with Future Islands.

And then it comes out and I listen to it in full, and it might actually be their 2nd or 3rd best album! I can't account for it, I can't point out what makes it stand out. It just works. The songs are "better," the vocals are "feeling it". Whatever any of that means. I've already listened to it more than I ever listened to Far Field, maybe more than Singles and On the Water. Sometimes it just works I guess.

10.22.2020
Necrot
Mortal

Guess what kind of music these guys play?

10.21.2020
Deerhoof
Love-Lore

Deerhoof released a new album in which they cover and melodize songs (and poems and drones and excerpts and process experiments) by Ornette Coleman, J.D. Robb, Voivod, Earl Kim, Knight Rider, Raymond Scott, Mauricio Kagel, Eddie Grant, Gary Numan, Stockhausen, The Beach Boys, Gerald Fried, Pauline Oliveros, Kermit the Frog, James Tenney, Silver Apples, The Police, Kraftwerk, John Williams, Morton Feldman, Sun Ra, Parliament, Asha Puthli, Ennio Morricone, Milton Babbitt, The B52s, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vinicius De Moraes & Baden Powell, Dionne Warwick, David Graeber, Derek Bailey, William Hanna & Hoyt Curtin, Anthony Braxton, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eric Siday, Igor Stravinsky, Caetano Veloso, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, John Cage, George Brecht, The Velvet Underground, and Laurie Anderson, and it shockingly—although not really shockingly because this is Deerhoof we're talking about—works. Honestly I'd already put it in the top 5 of their catalog.

10.17.2020
The Microphones
The Microphones in 2020

The Microphones in 2020 is a beautiful personal essay in the form of a beautiful personal 40 minute song in the form of a beautiful personal 1 track album. Like much of Phil Elverum's recent beautiful personal output, it deserves an award and I'll never listen to it a second time.

09.03.2020
Boris
NO

I've never really enjoyed Boris before. More than that, I've never even really understood Boris. Who are they? What are they doing? Is it drone? Is it noise? Is it metal? Is it electronic? Is it a band? Or a person? Do they only collaborate with other artists? What's the deal with Boris?

But then they put out this new album NO, and answer all my questions with very little room for confusion. This is a metal album by a metal band, hard stop. Okay well maybe not total trad metal, it has bits of hardcore and maybe some noise and punk in there, but not unlike the Oozing Wound album from last year (which I loved), this is just straight up nasty riffage. Crushingly intense. Not terribly intricate, but limber enough to make me wonder why they'd just been doing drone shit all those years. Or maybe they didn't? Did they? What were they doing that whole time?

12.31.2020 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2020Queens
A List

Boy what a year, huh? Okay, let's get on with it.

1. Caleta 111 (Queens) - Ceviche
2. Its-It (San Francisco) - Ice cream sandwiches
3. Emily (Manhattan) - Emily burger
4. Talula’s (Asbury Park) - Pepperoni honey pizza
5. F&F Pizza (Brooklyn) - Sausage sage and brown butter pizza
6. Phayul (Queens) - Hot sauce
7. Peter Pan Donuts (Brooklyn) - Donut
8. Arepa Lady (Queens) - Arepa de choclo
9. Randazzo Pizza (Brooklyn) - Chorizo pizza
10. Tung Tung (Brooklyn) - Char siu
11. Pastrami Queen (Manhattan) - Pastrami sandwich
12. Ugly Baby (Brooklyn) - Kang prik
13. Korzo (Brooklyn) - Korzo Burger
14. Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery (Brooklyn) - Kebab
15. Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (Queens) - Potherb mustard salad
16. Regina’s Grocery (Manhattan) - Meatball sandwich
17. Thaan (Queens) - Various Thai things
18. Original American Chicken (Queens) - grilled chicken and rice
19. Los Tacos No. 1 (Manhattan) - Tacos
20. SriPraPhai (Queens) - Duck curry

12.31.2020 - by Steve
Arepa LadyQueens
Arepa de choclo

Arepa Lady began in lower case, "the arepa lady" who became a sensation running an arepa cart around Queens a few years ago. But then recently her two sons decided to capitalize the operation (get it??), and now it's Arepa Lady, a full-on brick and mortar restaurant in Jackson Heights, literally one block away from my new place. I don't know if they're the best arepas in the neighborhood, because there are so many arepa options around here, but I'm perfectly comfortable putting them at #1 on the arepa de choclo alone. Get it with chicharron, and you're basically eating super-powered Colombian pancakes and bacon. Everything else here is good too of course, but the de choclo is the winner. This is actually the first case where I've actually lived so close to a legit amazing restaurant, and we're trying hard not to just eat it every week. Maybe tonight though?

12.30.2020 - by Steve
Amdo KitchenQueens
Momos

I had to look up the fact that this momo truck is called "Amdo Kitchen." As far as I'm concerned it's just "that momo truck outisde of Phayul with the Golden Momo Award advertisement on the side." As I said in the Phayul post (scroll down a few why don'tcha?), this little corner of Jackson Heights is swarming with momo trucks and carts. This is one of them. But they won a Golden Momo award, so of course I'm gonna eat at this one!

Good momos. Better than Phayul's. Hot sauce wasn't nearly as good. Now if I could get Phayul's hot sauce with this truck's momos...

12.30.2020 - by Steve
PhayulQueens
Lamb chops, thenthuk, momos

According to sources my new neighborhood has the largest population Tibetan and Nepali people outside of Asia. I can think of one or two Tibetan or Nepali restaurants in the entirety of the Twin Cities, but on one block of one street a quick walk from here, there are at least 6. Not to mention all the momo trucks that linger around the area. I mean the topic of Jackson Heights' mind-bogglingly diverse food options is a whole thing that I can barely even wrap my head around, but the sheer density of Himalayan restaurants alone is a topic in itself.

Of all these spots, Phayul seems to be the one that grabs the most acclaim from people (although if we're judging purely on curb appeal, I'd have to say Himalayan Yak is the king. How can you ignore a place called Himalayan Yak?) It was a while ago that we ate here, so I can't get into too much detail, other than the fact that it was pretty good. But! The real highlight of meal was the hot sauce. Which isn't to minimize the quality of the lamb chops and momos and thenthuk—remember me just saying they were pretty good? But the two hot sauces that came with the momos were both out of this world. Truly some of the best hot sauce I've ever had. No idea what was in either of them, but they were rich and flavorful without losing any heat, and complimented every dish absolutely perfectly. I was gobsmacked; didn't even know that Tibetan cuisine included hot sauce.

There's a certain category of food rating where something can be so good I don't even want to eat it again in fear that it will disappoint me next time, and I think Phayul's hot sauce falls into this category. Their lamb chops and momos? Sure, I'll eat em again.

11.14.2020 - by Steve
Original American ChickenQueens
Grilled chicken, rice, veggies

There's still hope for this country, and this chicken is proof.

11.13.2020 - by Steve
Emoji BurgerQueens
Cheeseburger

The nearest burger place to my new apartment is called Emoji Burger. Their burgers are named after emojis. And as you can see, they brand the 😜 guy right there into the top of the bun. It would be embarrassing if it wasn't so delicious.

It doesn't beat Andrew's Luncheonette, which was probably my previous favorite burger in town, but it was startlingly close.

11.02.2020 - by Steve
Nan Xiang Xiao Long BaoQueens
Xiao long bao, potherb mustard salad

It wasn't part of the plan, but our first indoor dining experience in I don't even want to look up how many months came at a dumpling joint in Flushing.

I wish I could explain the essence of Flushing to you, but you should really see it for yourself. When you're in Chinatown, you look around and it still feels like you're in old Manhattan—just Chinatown Manhattan. But Flushing, you get off the 7 train, walk up the stairs, and you'll think you're in Hong Kong or something. The buildings are newer, the signage is bigger and brighter, everything is a little more fresh, in that sort of post-war, malls-stacked-on-malls kind of way.

An added wrinkle is that you're starting to see what you can only really call gentrification, except it's Asian-American gentrification rather than your standard white yuppie type. New ugly glass condo buildings, dotted with trendy restaurants and clubs and tea shops, mom and pop places seemingly being replaced by overseas chains. It's a little dizzying—you want to gripe about it, but at least it's not all gastro-breweries and Whole Foods.

So in one of these new ugly glass condo buildings, is Nan Xiang, which has been in the neighborhood for years, and just moved locations from its little hole in the wall to this shiny new 2nd floor patio. So I guess it's not all chains. Anyway Nan Xiang has long been known for their soup dumplings (xiao long bao), and after stopping by our new place in Jackson Heights to get the keys, we decided to venture to Flushing for dinner. Their patio was totally swamped, but we decided to brave the inside anyway. (Side note: There's an entire essay that could be written about the way the Chinese and larger Asian community in New York City has dealt with the pandemic. The short version: Much better than the rest of us. So we actually felt more comfortable eating in this place than, say, The Kettle Black down in Bay Ridge. Anyway).

The dumplings were great! Very great! I've somehow never been fully satisfied by a soup dumpling—even thought they're supposed to be the greatest morsels ever created—but these might actually have been the best I've ever eaten. So the hype is warranted. But the other dish that somehow blew me away was this salad that we ordered on the side, made with potherb mustard greens, tofu, and red peppers. I've never had a salad quite like it, and the flavor combination was wonderful! Cool and crisp and light, a perfect side dish for a meal like this.

We also got some noodles, but they were lame, so let's not talk about that. Dumplings, yes! Salad, yes! Flushing, yes!

08.29.2020 - by Steve
Caleta 111Queens
Ceviche, chaufa, tamale

Caleta 111 is a little sliver of a Peruvian ceviche place in a little nothing Queens neighborhood underneath the elevated J tracks, and I had one of the best damn meals in a long time there.

I don't know anything about ceviche, and I honestly was a little tepid about going there to begin with. But it had been on our radar for a long time, and we happened to be close to this weird corner of Queens for the first time in a long time, so what the heck. But yeah. It was incredible, top to bottom. The ceviche, the chaufa (that Peruvian/Chinese fried rice, kinda like Chimborazo's, but sorry Chimborazo, this place has you beat), and even the pork tamale was better than most pork tamales I've ever had. Honestly the liquid that the ceviche sits in was so good I had to pick up the bowl and slurp up the last of it like I was a kid who just finished my Lucky Charms.

I'd say it's in the top 5 meals I've eaten here. Maybe top 3. Top 2? (Sorry, can't get it up to 1... those Olmsted scallops aren't likely to step aside for anybody.)

05.09.2020 - by Steve
Tarim Uyghur CuisineQueens
Lamb kabob, noodles

Queens is the kind of place where you can get Uyghur food in a mall food court and that's just totally normal. And that Uyghur food involves a lamb kabob served to you on a sword.

11.13.2019 - by Steve
MuQueens
Burger

There are whispers that Mu has the best ramen in the city. One friend of ours, a major ramen aficionado herself, claims it's the best ramen she's ever had anywhere.

The burger is even better.

Honestly this is the best burger I've had in New York*. I don't know what kind of magic was used in its creation, but really was a perfect specimen. In that uniquely precise Japanese way—a perfectly round burger fit plumb inside a perfectly round bun topped with a perfectly round pile of condiments. What were the condiments? I don't remember. Caramelized onions, some kind of homemade miso ketchup maybe. And exactly three perfectly fried potato wedges. But this thing melted and effloresced in my mouth on every bite, and it really was magic.

And also the ramen was fantastic and their pastrami fried rice was delicious. But this burger.

* Bougie burger edition. As far as lower class, bar style burgers, Andrew's Luncheonette is still on top.

09.21.2019 - by Steve
Beefrria-LandiaQueens
Birria mulita taco

OMG I had a long, detailed and riotously entertaining post written here that you would've loved, but I accidentally lost it. So here's the short version:

For the last year I've been seeing these amazing tacos on Instagram. They're stuffed with shredded beef and cheese and grilled like a quesadilla, but then folded like a taco and totally doused with a spicy looking liquidy red pepper sauce. The final product is—forgive me for sounding like a hack copyrighter here—mouth watering. Every time I see one on Instagram, I want to eat one immediately. The problem is, without exception, every single one I've seen posted is from somewhere in Los Angeles.

A little research confirmed this. What we're dealing with is a birria mulita, and while they've existed in a few small areas of Mexico for a while, they've just recently taken the Los Angeles truck and taqueria scene by storm. But I'm in New York the Greatest City In The World!, I shouted to God, surely we must have these too!. So after a year of not being in LA to eat one of these motherfuckers, I google "birria mulita taco New York," and was greeted with a minor miracle. Just a few days earlier, the city's very first birria truck opened in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Just a week later, we found ourselves conveniently (and accidentally, I swear) in Jackson Heights. It was 4:55, and the truck opened at 5:00. We saw it pull in to its spot. We walked around the block to give them time to set up. We returned to find a line of 10 people ahead of us. My god, I'm clearly not the only one who was desperate for these things.

In a rare surprise, it was everything I'd hoped for. Rich, spicy, luscious, profound. Easily the best Mexican food I've had in this city so far.

Sometimes things are good.

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.