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.

2021-05-08
Cumbie
EP

A few years ago I fell in love with this English band called Trust Fund. They released 3 albums in fairly quick succession, and then more or less retired from music.

Cumbie sounds a weird amount like Trust Fund. Like if you told me one or two of these tracks were new (or archival) Trust Fund recordings, I wouldn't question it. But the one thing that sets Cumbie apart is that, every now and then, once or twice per song, they become metal. Like yeah the black metal logo and dark doomy cover artwork is kinda tongue-in-cheek, but also kinda not. You can tell that this band, for all their indie power pop punk jamming and twee sing-song melodicism, come from a place of long-haired, double-bass-pedal heaviness. They've got guts. So much so that those moments make me stop comparing them to Trust Fund. But then they start singing again and I can't get past it.

Cool little EP though. I think this band has the potential to do some killer stuff if they keep at it.

2021-05-08
Brother Guy
The Wavey Session 1

Here's a weird one!

Bandcamp earlier this week posted a little list of "Jam bands for people who don't like jam bands." Hey, I'm a person who doesn't like jam bands! So I scrubbed down the list, and it was mostly experimental, jazz-adjacent stuff that was interestingish, but not exactly "jammy." Then the last entry on the page, Brother Guy, appeared, with its wavy gravy cartoon bird cover art, its literal wavey title, and an actual hedging apology from the list's author. "Ok so this one actually sounds like a jam band, but hear me out!"

So I hit play on The Wavey Session 1, and yep it sounds like a jam band! But true to the spirit of the list, it felt different. A little looser, scragglier, a sense of people in a room jamming, missing notes, feeling each other out, all with something closer to an "indie" flavor rather than something more phishy. Like these guys had been playing all day, and were just a little sleepy and tired of trying to impress anybody.

It also went on for 42 minutes. One song. Like, really truly a jam, more or less on one chord progression, no vocals, one little hook of a melody that repeated throughout, and slowly changed and morphed. 42 minutes, and I enjoyed every one of them! Then the next track clocked in at 26, the next another 26, with an added sax section and a more hypnotic jazz vibe. But again, I really enjoyed all of it! I ended up listening to the entire collection later that day, and again the next day!

I don't even know what I'd point to as being remarkable with this band. They don't seem particularly talented, there's nothing going on here that's pushing any boundaries or creating any unique moments of transcendence. But they just play with such patience and ease that 40 minutes of one dang song breezes by in no time. I might even go buy part 2.

2021-05-04
WILD POWWERS
What You Wanted

I randomly stumbled on this band Wild Powwers (I will not style it as WILD POWWERS) on Bandcamp, just looking through their best sellers. Bandcamp: it's good.

Anyway not a ton to say about it, other than that it's another case of a heavy, grunge-inspired, female-fronted indie rock band that is just pitch-perfect in its presentation and construction. It's a damn pleasure to listen to. It vibes. But unlike last year's Pillow Queens, an equally pitch-perfect rock outfit, I don't really remember the songs. Unfair to compare to Pillow Queens because that album is seriously this close to being a modern classic, but WILD POWWERS (oops) just doesn't quite have the songwriting chops (or the Irish brogues) as that group.

Still! Rocks.

2021-04-29
Andy Stott
Never The Right Time

Andy Stott has appeared on my radar a couple times in the last few years, as the sort of moody, melodic, progressive electronic artist that might move the needle for me. I'm still not totally sold on his music (it's nice enough), but the album cover of Never The Right Time is so great that I just went ahead and bought it anyway.

2021-04-22
Horndal
Lake Drinker

This band sounds more like Mastodon than any band I've ever heard (other than Mastodon. And that includes Baroness, who I once claimed released that year's best Mastodon album*. This is a concept album about how a Google data center is destroying their blue collar Norwegian town and their lead singer sounds like a cartoon bear, and it all works incredibly well.

* This was a fucking harebrained and wrong statement for me to have made in the first place and I can't stop apologizing for making you read it. That was the year that Crack the Skye came out for cripes sake, which I've come to recognize is actually the best Mastodon album. I've also come to recognize that Baroness kinda stinks. Well they don't stink, but they're dull. I'm happy to let Horndal replace them in non-Mastodon years.

2021-04-22
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Revelator

"Midnight In Harlem" is still one of the most perfect things ever recorded. 10 years ago I posted about this album and was very carefully self-effacing about it, and yeah it's a corny song on a corny album from a corny band, but seriously. That song.

2021-04-17
Genghis Tron
Dream Weapon

If you don't remember Genghis Tron (and unless you're one of maybe, like, 2 people I can imagine reading this right now, you don't), I'm already too exhausted trying to explain their whole thing. Basically, like around 2004-05 or 08 or 09, this band appeared who played the most spastically, hellishly intense extreme hardcore-indebted metal, but combined it with Tron era, Kraftwerkian electro beatz. I mean, it's right there in their name, Genghis Tron. The whole thing easily could've played as a joke, but they somehow pulled it off in a way that felt legitimate. They were good. But after just one EP and two full lengths, I (and seemingly the band itself) decided I'd had enough Genghis Tron for a lifetime. Relegated to the fondly remembered but hardly revisited CD booklet of nostalgia.

15 years later, out of absolutely nowhere, they suddenly returned. And every 35+ music blogger and leftover Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan commenter said, in unison, "Holy shit I remember Genghis Tron!" Not only have they returned, but galdarnit they've grown up! They still play hard-ass metal with retro electronic foundations, but they've somehow now molded it into something entirely devoid of novelty. They now play adult music for adults. No more screaming, very few blast beats, cheeky synths replaced with chill synths. And it's good! Very good!

This music actually scratches a rare itch that very few metal bands are able to find. It's the idea of heavy music that soothes. The guitars tear, the drums pound, but the ultimate effect is more hypnotic than aggro. It's chill. The debut from the band Astronoid a couple years ago hit this sweet spot, and Deafheaven occasionally gets there when they aim that way. But it's really rare to hear a band succeed at stiff as a board, light as a feather. Especially impressive when you think about Genghis Tron's original releases, which were entirely about knocking you senseless and spinning you dizzy.

2021-04-14
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra
Promises

Alluring, angelic, beautiful, brilliant, colorful, dazzling, delightful, divine, elegant, exquisite, glorious, gorgeous, handsome, heavenly, impressive, lavish, lovely, luxurious, magnificent, majestic, opulent, pleasing, pulchritudinous, ravishing, resplendent, splendid, stunning, sublime, sumptuous, superb, transcendent, triumphant, wonderful, wondrous, okay hold on I have to think of something that starts with Z.

2021-04-14
serpentwithfeet
DEACON

For years I've thought that serpentwithfeet was a caustic experimental, bleeding-edge electronic producer—someone like an Arca or Oneohtrix Point Never or Forest Swords. Turns out he lands much more between an Antony and Frank Ocean and Sampha, a heart-on-sleeve, unrepentantly queer, unrepentantly black, unrepentantly musical songwriter, with a capital U and Q and B and M and S to all of that. Yeah there's an edge to a lot of it still (I guess he used to do more grim electronic stuff), but some of the songs on here come off as practically cute. "Me and my boo wear the same size shoe." Come on, that's sweet.

Great album. The kind of album that makes me think somebody should be massively popular and successful but probably won't get there until he's sanded off all the edges.

2021-04-12
Ryley Walker
Course In Fable

Ryley Walker has proven himself a master producer, performer, arranger, interpreter, creator, instrumentalist, improvisor, stylist, mind. He can do it all, and his taste is consistently impeccable. But what he isn't a master of is songwriting. Everything else is there, everything sounds amazing, layered beautifully, played with heart, everything is interesting. But the actual melodies and progressions and words seem to always hit a little flatter than you'd expect. Not that he writes in a way that's simplistic or derivative, but he just seems to be searching and circling to find the song in his work, and finding a whole lot of other cool things, but never actually landing on it.

This is all laid bare in his full album of Dave Matthews Band covers from a couple years ago. Say what you will, of course, about Dave Matthews, but they had songs. When Ryley Walker went full steam into covering and interpreting and rearranging those songs, the results were truly incredible. Better than anything DMB ever released on their own (stripping away all of that band's magniloquent regard of their own material), and easily the best thing that Walker's ever released.

This record is good. I like listening to it. It takes you on a dozen different journeys, and like everything Walker records, there are layers to dig through every time you listen. I just can't wait for the day that he cracks his own cipher and figures out how to write a song. He'll be unstoppable.

2021-04-11
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!

I won't waste your time telling you how good this new Godspeed album is. It's exactly as good as you want it to be.

But what I will tell you is I think it might be Godspeed's most rock album. Parts of this thing sound like it could be Pink Floyd. In a good way. The best way. Fuck, I just thought about what would happen if GYBE got David Gilmour to sing on an album.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor would kill me and burn my body if they found out I compared them to Pink Floyd.

2021-04-11
Bruiser Wolf
Dope Game Stupid

Last week I heard one song from this Bruiser Wolf character ("I'm An Instrument"), and thought it was honestly one of the more unique sounding hip hop songs I've heard in a long time. In fact it's just occurring to me now that it reminds me of The Avalanches "Frank Sinatra" from a few years back, which ironically (or not) featured Danny Brown, who is also featured on "I'm An Instrument," and who runs the label that discovered and signed Bruiser Wolf.

So I heard the song, and had no idea whether I actually liked it. Yeah it was unique and kinda fun, but also a little grating and not particularly deep. I said "well that was interesting," and moved on, with no real interest in diving deeper into Bruiser Wolf.

By the end of that day I had listened to the song 4 more times and bought the whole album. And every other track is almost as interesting as that one.

2021-04-11
The Vernon Spring
A Plane Over The Woods

Solo jazz piano that's as profoundly chill as something like Grouper, but with chops.

I think there's an entire ecosystem of quiet piano solo projects floating out there on Spotify and Bandcamp, to fill up late night homework playlists, and otherwise make the artists who recorded them feel like they're making something sublime and heady. Mostly it's just people playing minor chords very slowly and maybe adding a lot of room tone. This, though. This feels different. This guy (I don't think his name is Vernon) can actually play. Of course these references are completely overselling it, but the quick names that come to mind are Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. Take the quietest, sleepiest, patientest Evans and Jamal recordings you can imagine, run them through Grouper's 4 track, and maybe let William Basinski accidentally let some of the tapes melt, and you have In The Aeroplane Over The Sea A Plane Over The Woods.

Oh and one track he plays like Alice Coletrane, which is also cool.

2021-05-10
Bistro EloiseQueens
Croque madame

If you came to visit me in New York and I told you I was taking you to a quaint little French bistro, and then you looked around at the parking lot and the PetCo and Modell's and dialysis place and the bad pizza place and the worse Chinese place and ask me why I've taken you to this godawful strip mall in the middle of Queens. There's a very good chance you won't even see the quaint little French bistro in the corner, between the grocery store and the dental office. But then you'll eat your croque madame and French onion soup and mushroom chicken crepe and say "Yeah that was pretty good, but maybe let's go somewhere a little less depressing next time."

2021-05-09
CardamomQueens
Vindaloo, xacutti

It's 2021, it's May, you know what that means! It's time for the new Michelin Bib Gourmand list!

No, I didn't know what that was either. Basically you know the Michelin list, right? With the stars? So they do this other thing were they collect other "little" restaurants to feature, that might not have the epicureal horsepower of the starred places, but are cheaper, easier, and usually more neighborhoody. Like, not hole-in-the-wall mom-n-pops (but sometimes those too), but places just a step up from that.

So Cardamom is an Indian restaurant just a few trains stops down from here, and as you probably guessed, it made it onto the Bib Gourmand list this year. So we gave it a shot! (Actually there are 3 or 4 within walking distance of here that made it, but we were just in the mood for Indian that night). The elevator pitch with Cardamom is that it specializes in food from the Goa state of India, which I guess has some leftover Portuguese influence. Honestly the menu didn't seem so much different than other Indian places. But whatever! Also, taking the Michelin recommendation into account, I wouldn't say it was that much better than most above-average Indian places. But whatever! It was still good!

Maybe I'll program some fancy function into this site that makes a lil Michelin Guide icon appear for all Michelin approved restaurants. See also: Phayul (like a 5 minute walk from here), Omlstead (surprised that it didn't get a "real" Michelin star TBH), and Caleta 111 (my #1 meal of last year!)

2021-04-17
Khong GuanQueens
Orange Cream Biscuits

I'm obsessed* with these orange cream biscuits. They're kinda like orange Oreos (omg could you even imagine?), but instead of the standard Oreo cookie, it's something closer to a cracker or a vanilla wafer. Keebler and Pepperidge Farm vibes, but those brands have never had the guts to experiment with orange. Anyway they're from the Khong Guan brand, and if you go to your local Chinese/Asian grocery store, there's a decent chance you can find them. Usually they keep all the Khong Guan products together in the snack aisle, just look for the white packages with the thin graph pattern that you probably had on your bed sheets in 1991. They're so good, not too sweet, I could eat one a day for the rest of my life.

* I hate when people say they're "obsessed" with things like orange cookies. I'm not actually obsessed. Don't worry.

2021-04-17
The QueensboroQueens
Eggs benedict

That thing I said down there about diner breakfasts? The same goes for bougie brunch spot breakfasts.

2021-04-14
969 NYC CoffeeQueens
Chicken katsu onigiri sandwich

I don't understand anything in this city sometimes. There's this place literally one block from my apartment, it's practically invisible, off the main drag, on the first floor of an apartment building, next to an equally invisible international shipping agency, you'd easily walk by and think nothing of it. 969 NYC Coffee. Dirty old yellow awning with a clip art coffee cup on it. Is it even open? Has anyone ever actually purchased coffee there? Is it an insurance scam? A drug front?

No, it's a Japanese snack shop a tea house, where a former gourmet chef from Tokyo makes onigiri and sushi and matcha tea and sells them for next to nothing out of a fridge. He also makes what I can only call "onigiri sandwiches", basically a big sushi roll packed sandwich style, with the rice and nori as a bun. It's all delicious and well made, and so cheap that my questions about it being an insurance scam and drug from still persist. But it's amazing to know that it's there.

2021-03-28
Chip CityQueens
Cookies

I was out near Long Island City the other day and wanted a cookie, so I did what anyone in my position would do and I searched "cookies" in Google Maps. This place called Chip City came up, and I eventually found it, a tiny little storefront on the first floor of some new development mixed-use building. Basically just a little bakery case with just 4 trays of cookies, maybe they had a coffee machine and a fridge of milk or something, a cash register, one employee, and that was that.

What I didn't know until just now is that Chip City (as far as I can tell?) primarily markets itself as a home-delivery cookie dough company. Direct-to-consumer, disrupting the cookie dough industry, all that. I bet they've at least discussed sponsoring a podcast. But this just happened to be one little local outlet—possibly even connected to their main kitchen? Who knows.

Anyway their cookies are oddly massive—thick like a muffin top or a dang scone or something. But I gotta say, they were good! I worried they'd be either overcooked on the outside or overly dense on the inside, but no, they were go good consistency all around! Just absolutely way too huge, especially since I (oops) bought 4 of them. Two chocolate chip, one s'mores, and one peanut butter & jelly. How have I never had a PB&J cookie before? Seems so obvious! I'll go ahead and say the s'mores was the best, and maybe chocolate chip, followed by the PB&J. But they were all good!

They won't exist beyond 2021.

2021-03-16
Mom's MomoQueens
Momos

Some day in the moderately-near future, I'll be able to sit down and construct my Best Momos list. Mom's will be on this list. Not very high, but it'll be on there.

2021-03-08
Xing Fu TangQueens
Brown sugar boba milk

Back around Christmas time, I was walking through Flushing and noticed a new-looking storefront with a line bursting out of the door and around the corner. (I mean, social distancing and all, maybe it wasn't that long a line, but still). Passing by, it at first appeared by be just a fancy boba tea shop, but right by the window was a steaming wok full of this rich black goo that a worker was stir frying and slopping up into cups. And the people leaving had the most absolutely luscious looking marbled drinks in their hands, and someone had an equally luscious looking ice cream sundae! I didn't look up what was going on here, but clearly it was some sort of phenomenon.

Fast forward to last week, we're back in Flushing (see Maxi's Noodle, below. Excellent). After eating, I remember the black goo place from December, and we set off trying to find it. Sure enough, still lined up outside, it's Xing Fu Tang.

As it turns out, Xing Fu Tang is a very popular—and seemingly somewhat new—Taiwanese chain. This Queens location is their very first in the US, and clearly the word had quickly reached the Taiwanese and Hongkonger populations of Flushing. I quickly learned the black goo is slightly less mysterious that I imagined—Xing Fu Tang is ostensibly a boba tea shop, but their specialty is this brown sugar boba milk. In one corner of their kitchen, they have a special built machine that molds little spheres of brown sugar, mixed with tapioca bubbles, which are then all stir fried in a hot wok, creating that luscious goo. The goo then gets ladled into a glass, ice is added, then milk and tea, then they pour a latte-style foam over the top, and a dusting of a sugar concoction. As if this wasn't already way too much, they then bring in a butane kitchen torch and run it over the top of the drink, crème brûlée style. The whole process is impressively hands-on for a tea shop, there's a large staff of people behind the counter running drinks through the numbers. Oh, and for $10 more, you can top your drink in gold leaf. Not even kidding.

The result is truly one of the most beautiful looking fast food items I've ever seen. The impossibly dark inkiness of the sugar goo sits on the bottom and marbles up with the white of the milk, topped off by a lightly golden torched foam. Truly, I've seen plenty of similar things from bubble tea shops and the Starbucks of the world, but something in the visual chemistry of what Xing Fu Tang makes is absolutely tantalizing. You see that photo up there, right?

The best part, somehow, remarkably, unbelievably: it tastes just as good. This is an amazing drink. You'd expect it to either be too rich, or too sweet, or possibly burnt or bitter, but it's none of these things. It's a perfectly balanced experience. Like casually drinking a crème brûlée. Rich and sweet, yes, but not overly so; the two of us shared a single drink, but I easily could've finished one on my own. Then you have the hot sugar mixture and the cold milk and ice playing off each other from sip to sip, and of course the bubbles making themselves known now and then.

Oof. I'm telling you. You can probably find brown sugar boba at various bubble tea shops around, but this Xing Fu Tang is doing something on its own level. There's nothing like it. I posted a comment afterwards on Instagram, and I still believe it: Five years from now there will be a Xing Fu Tang in every metropolis in America, and I'll probably be fucking sick of them by then. But you heard it here first!

OMG they also do ice cream sundaes. Absolutely can't wait for ice cream sundae weather.

2021-03-04
Maxi's NoodleQueens
Lo mein with beef stew and dumplings

Hong Kong style noodles are the noodles for me. I've decided. The Hong Kong version of lo mein, in particular, I'm realizing is right to the heart of what I want out of this sort of thing—thinner, almost vermicelli style noodles, sitting and basting in stock (but not swimming as a soup), salty and not too sloppy, and topped with a couple hunks of meat.

Maxi's in Flushing does Hong Kong style noodles (probably one of about two dozen places in Flushing that does Hong Kong noodles really), and with the beef stew on top for an extra dollar—don't get too excited about the spicy pork—they're probably as good as you'll find anywhere.

2021-03-04
Sushi FellaQueens
Sushi

There's a Polish guy in my neighborhood operating an underground sushi takeout business out of his apartment while the restaurant he apprentices for—under the leadership of one of the Jiro Dreams of Sushi masters—is closed for the pandemic. You text him, he asks you how many people will be eating and when you can pick it up, you go to the corner outside his apartment building and he brings it down for you, you ask how to pay and he says "You can Venmo me tomorrow, or later this week, it doesn't matter. Please just enjoy your sushi." You can tell this man truly loves sushi. And emojis. Especially sushi emojis.

It might be the best sushi I've ever had.

2021-02-22
Untitled al pastor taco cartQueens
Al pastor tacos

I can now finally be a guy who says the best al pastor he's ever had is from an anonymous taco cart under the 7 train.

2021-02-15
FuskahouseQueens
Fuchka

Oh you've never heard of fuschka? The popular Bengali street snack? Oh, well, that's funny because I live a few blocks away from the first and second fuschka carts in America, so I don't know I mean it's not even that exciting for me anymore. Yeah it's fucking delicious and exploding with flavor and somehow light as a cloud, but when you live so close to the best fuschka in the western hemisphere, I guess you kinda just forget it's even there. Anyway, you probably don't have any in your town anyway, so don't worry about it y'know? I guess I'll take you to Fuskahouse (lol, no it's not "Fuchkahouse", everyone knows that) or Tong (it was the first one but actually all the locals eat at the other cart anyway) next time you're in the big city to visit.

2021-02-08
La Gran Uruguaya BakeryQueens
Donut

I've posted once or twice already about the depressing state of donuts this neighborhood. You just would think that Queens would be a donut borough, right? Just seems like it has donut energy. But outside of Dunkin, there's hardly any places to get them, and the two that should've been home runs—the vintage diner Alpha Donuts and this other new little shop called Go Nuts Donuts—were both deeply and insultingly disappointing. Now I'm realizing I didn't write about Go Nuts Donuts, but don't worry about it. They were basically ring-shaped cupcakes. One was actually good, but it wasn't even a dang donut!

Enter La Gran Uruguaya.

This hit me fully out of the blue, a sucker punch from behind while I was tying my shoes. This neighborhood is heavily Colombian and Colombian-adjacent, and what I've learned being here is that South Americans love their bakeries. There are so many around here. I walk by 6 or 7 between my place and the train, just one after another. But they mostly make South American pastries, sometimes French style stuff, sometimes Italian style stuff. It's often less sweet that our usual American bullshit, flakier, more breadlike, layer cakes that lean into fruits and cream rather than mounds of chocolate and frosting. Some of it is wonderful, of course, but my point is these aren't donut bakeries, that's not what they do.

I'd been to La Gran Uruguaya once before, had some quality sweets, the names of which I've totally forgotten—little croissant-like cookies with a caramel filling. It's a big place, with tons of options, as well as a menu of Uruguayan entrees, and usually soccer playing up on a TV. Anyway I popped in the other morning to see if they might have some pan de Jamón (basically ham and cheese croissants) for a quick breakfast bite. But there on the top rack, was a single tray of sugar-coated donuts. They didn't frosted or sprinkled, they didn't have Bavarian cream, they didn't have blueberry glazed or powdered sugar donut holes, just this one little try of plain looking sugared raised donuts. But they looked good, and I figured there's no way they could be worse than my recent Alpha experience. So I skipped the jamón and got the donut.

One of the best donuts I've had in this city! Seriously! Like not the best (Peter Pan, I got you), but I'll happily say top 4 or 5 (there were a few good Dough and Donut Plant experiences mixed in there too, and one surprisingly satisfying Dunkin). This was practically perfect donut. A little bit of bite and chew out the outside, soft as a damn cloud on the inside. Everything you'd want from a donut! I'm not the biggest fan of sugared-style, and it didn't hit me with a full-on dopamine rush like the Peter Pan donut did, but hell, this is just about a perfect donut. From a Uruguayan bakery that seemingly doesn't give a shit about donuts!

Which maybe has something to do with it—they're not pumping out a thousand of these things every morning, so they can actually take care and make them right. I actually went back a few days later, and they had no donuts at all. So casual about their donut mastery!

So I'm feeling better about this situation now. I have a donut place. For the most part. But I still want a donut place, y'know?