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?

08.29.2020
Hum
Inlet

20 years ago, Hum broke up and I accepted it and moved on. 10 years ago, they got together for some reunion shows, and I caught them in Chicago and it was pretty sweet, but once again I moved on. I haven't really spent any emotional energy for the last two decades worrying or wondering about if Hum would ever get back together or release new music or anything like that. In fact, as years went on, and as whispers and hints of a new album started percolating, I never once thought "wow I can't wait to hear it." Reunion albums can be major bummers, and I didn't necessarily trust a bunch of 40-50 year old guys who have long since moved on to have the same obsessive attention to detail that could match their work from the 90s.

But then they surprise dropped Inlet about a month and a half ago, and it's the only thing I've listened to since and it fucking rules.

06.14.2020
Neil Young
Zuma

I've been very dumb for ignoring Zuma my whole life. Well not totally ignoring it, because I've listened to "Cortez the Killer" a thousand times, but somehow I missed the fact that this is the album it was from. I blame the cover art. Anyway Zuma rules. L8r.

06.13.2020
Shamir
Cataclysm

This album sounds like if that one fateful night Prince would've met Hüsker Dü instead of Jimmy Jam.

More impressive than this album though, is a single Shamir just released called "On My Own," which I've listened to like 20 times in the last few days. To offer another overly sweaty metaphor, it sounds like Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" reborn as a 21st century post-genre lo-fi genderqueer global pandemic dance anthem. I'm totally fine with it being my official Song Of The Summer. Haven't had one of those in a while.

06.13.2020
Blake Mills
Mutable Set

This is excellent music. But it's extremely excellent walking around at night music. Try it.

06.12.2020
Armand Hammer
Shrines

About this time last year I was writing a glowing review of Billy Woods' Hiding Places. I was new to Woods, a Brooklyn rapper who's been quietly and anonymously (he doesn't share publicity photos, and he generally covers his face in videos) putting out a string of records and collaborations over the last decade, but after hearing just one song, I was sold. He's not the most exciting performer in the world, but he writes lyrics that will knock you flat. We're talking like Faulkner and McCarthy level wordsmithery, minimal and vital, all atop beats that hum with paranoid psychedelica. He's barely even a rapper; he's a poet with great taste in producers.

Armand Hammer is one of Woods' small handful of projects, along with another Brooklyn rapper Elucid. Remember all that probably overhyped praise I just wrote about Billy Woods? Well Elucid can keep up, verse for verse. The two share a profound outlook on the world, and the ability to find the words. Really all I want to do to review this stuff is to copy and paste line after line, but that seems kinda cheap. And maybe unlawful?

Anyway Shrines plays more or less like Hiding Places did, although with the addition of Elucid on every track, and a whole lot more guests, who all seem down with what Armand Hammer is doing. The music itself is a little more abstract, as are the lyrics, but it's just as gripping of a listen, from start to finish.

Plus the cover is a fucking crazy photo of a tiger in a Harlem apartment. They rap about it. They'll make you want to be that tiger.

06.12.2020
Run the Jewels
RTJ4

Let's do this shit.

06.08.2020
Oranssi Pazuzu
Mestarin Kynsi

It's frustratingly difficult to find metal that sounds truly new. (Not "nu"). So much of the genre seems to be built on lateral movement rather than forward movement, x-meets-y, dialing this aspect up and this aspect down, mixing this sub genre with this sub genre, referencing the guitar style of this old band with the vocals of that old band. This certainly works every now and then—nothing Blood Incantation did on their last album was particularly new, yet it's already a modern classic—but for the most part it makes sifting through new metal releases a joyless chore. But then once every few years you find Oranssi Pazuzu.

I guess there are references here—Can? Nine Inch Nails? Pink Floyd? Ministry? Soft Machine? Kraftwerk? Black Sabbath? Slint? Depeche Mode?—but they forge it into something. It's dark, it's sinister, it moves forward with a ceaseless pulse, even in its quiet moments. It's just barely metal. In just the first minute, you've already been transported and hypnotized, elated that your joyless digging has finally paid off.

And then the vocals come in, and it's like fucking Skeletor is choking on a hot dog. It's infuriating. Here is a band that's doing something, making new music within the world of metal. But these vocals are absolute C-grade black metal nonsense. Fully tuneless, usually out of sync with the music, adding absolutely nothing—and worst of all, not breaking any rules of the genre. It's a guy doing a silly voice.

This album is still a fulfilling listen, because everything surrounding those vocals is rich, enveloping, and beautiful. And I'd love to see Oranssi Pazuzu live to see how they unfold this stuff. But shit, for a metal band who has finally stopped caring about being a metal band, it's depressing that they couldn't take that final step.

06.07.2020
Jeff Rosenstock
NO DREAM

No matter what medium it is, it's always invigorating to see the work of somebody who's mastered their art. Jeff Rosenstock's art is pop punk, but goddamn he's figured it out. Total mastery.

05.14.2020
Little Wings
Zephyr

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

11.13.2020 - by Steve
Its-ItSan Francisco
Ice cream sandwiches

I can think of few other occasions where the payoff of eating a hallowed regional foodstuff so thoroughly met the heightened expectations I obtained in the months and years prior to eating said foodstuff. It's-It is it.

Erin has been entering a monthly (?) sweepstakes on Instagram for something like four years now, attempting to win a package of It's-It ice cream sandwiches, overnighted from from San Francisco (you drove and did you flew?). Well in a great sign for my chances with the Hamilton lottery (fingers crossed!), she finally received notice that she'd won! And a few days later, a dry-ice packed styrofoam container appeared at our door, packed with a dozen It's-Its of various flavors.

Reader, these ice cream sandwiches are heavenly.

I don't want to waste too much text trying to describe them, because there's not that much to describe. And what description I could give will likely be met with something like, "Okay, so what?". Because all we have here is a puck of ice cream, squeezed between two (this is essential) oatmeal cookies, and dipped (this is essential too) in chocolate. That's it. But it all works gloriously. However they're making their ice cream, however they're making their oatmeal cookies, whatever chemistry of melted chocolate they've perfected, whatever temperature they freeze these things at, there's some combination of magic in here.

That's it.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
El Farolito San Francisco
Al pastor burrito, horchata

If you'd like to follow the epic narrative of my big road trip eating adventures in their proper order, scroll down until you get to River Rock Coffee, 19 or 20 posts down. And then go up from there. Or don't worry about that and just do whatever. See if I care.

So it's my last morning in San Francisco, and I'm flying home in a few hours, and in these final moments of reflection and contemplation, there's one feeling that I can't shake: There's no way La Taqueria is the best burrito in San Francisco, right?. So in my last dwindling hours of vacation freedom, do I walk across the Golden Gate bridge? Do I visit an art museum? Do I ride a street car up to the Full House house and take a selfie with a loaf of sourdough? No, I do not. There are burritos to be eaten. Specifically, burritos at El Farolito, La Taqueria's most insistent challenger on the internet's endless collection of Best Mission Burrito lists. Farolito isn't so different than Taqueria, or probably any of the places on Mission, and as such isn't so different than any random Mexican taco/burrito joint you're likely to visit anywhere else. So what's the deal? Why do these Mission places get this universal acclaim to be the Worlds Greatest Burritos, when they're seemingly doing nothing different than 1,000 other spots in the country? To be honest, beyond simple history and reputation, I don't know. But I do know this: El Farolito's al pastor burrito was fantastic, better than La Taqueria. Maybe the best al pastor I've ever had. Still, as a pure burrito experience, it was fine? Above average? At least better than any random place on Central? Look, I like San Francisco's burritos. They're just probably not worth the airfare.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
Dynamo DonutSan Francisco
Chocolate rosemary donut, lemon poppyseed donut

We're deep into the post-cupcake Donut Renaissance right now, and you can visit nearly any decently sized city and find at least one "cool" donut place, trying Elevate The Donut, or some such thing. I'm sure there's a hundred of them in San Francisco, but I picked one of the acclaimed spots, Dynamo Donut & Coffee, an uber-cool little nook that's seemingly leading the headlong charge of gentrifying an unsuspecting Hispanic neighborhood. Or maybe they're fully suspecting. Either way, their rent is about to skyrocket. Anyway, as is the case with almost every one of those donut place I try, I was not terribly impressed. These things are about 4 bucks a piece, and were too oily, neither crispy or soft, and the combination of rosemary and chocolate, while looking nice on the wooden menu, just tasted like rosemary and chocolate. Nothing magical. Beyond just Dynamo, I'm starting to feel like maybe donuts don't need to be anything more than a 50 (or fine, 75) cent ring of dough with some chocolate and sprinkles. Or maybe a 4 dollar donut in San Francisco is actually just the standard rate.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
Henry's HunanSan Francisco
Marty's special

I wasn't about to bother with Chinatown during my brief San Francisco stints, but I did want to test my hypothesis that the very existence of Chinatown, and a large Chinese population in general, is a high tide that raises all the boats of San Fran's Chinese restaurants. So when I found myself in the Noe Valley neighborhood (after attempting to watch that night's World Series game in the local Cubs bar), I saw Henry's Hunan, and thought, "Sure, why not." I think my theory was mostly, sort of, proven true, because Henry's was indeed better than your average sugary slop Chinese place. It wasn't amazing, and I've certainly had better Chinese food before, but it closer to something like Rainbow than New China Garden Palace Wok. The most interesting thing about the place was that they offered a small selection of in-house smoked meats, including ham, which is apparently a classic Hunan thing, but I don't think I've ever seen on a menu before. I got the "Marty's Special," which was a spicy smoked ham and chicken stir fry, and some steamed dumplings. It was a classic Chinese restaurant situation (usually specific to Szechuan places) where I wish I had somebody eating with me, because while my dish was good, it was a little too intense to eat solely as an entree; salty and spicy and loud. It could've used some other dishes to balance out. Still, interesting to get smoked ham at a Chinese place, and nice to know that you don't have to deal with the madness of Chinatown to get good Chinese food in San Fran.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
In-N-Out BurgerSan Francisco
Cheeseburger

Still think In-N-Out is inferior to Five Guys. Pretty sure I've posted that before here, but just needed to confirm. Moving on.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
La TaqueriaSan Francisco
Carne asada burrito

So this trip is confusing now. If you're following along at home, you'll see the order of cities is St. Peter > Gillette > San Fran > Boise > San Fran > Hawaii > San Fran. This was not the intention. But since the car broke down, I drove back home, got a plane ticket to San Francisco, rented a car and tried to catch up to my itinerary from there. Which means I got one random meal in San Francisco before hitting the road!

And what I wanted was a burrito in the Mission. Because general consensus says if you want a good burrito, you go to San Francisco. And if you want a good burrito in San Francisco, you go the Mission. From there, things get fuzzy. There are countless listicles online trying to determine the best Mission burrito. Some say Taqueria Cancun. Some say El Farolito (see way above!). But if the lists trend any one way, it's towards La Taqueria. Even FiveThirtyEight statistically determined it to be the #1 burrito in the Mission (and thus the country.) Although we know now that those fuckers aren't always right about things.

I'll say this about my carne asada burrito at La Taqueria: if I had it in Minneapolis, I'd swear to everybody that it was the best burrito in the city. I'd eat it all the time. It was essentially flawless. But. I couldn't help but feel that this cannot be the greatest burrito in the world. It was very very good. But I shed no tears. It didn't speak to me on a religious level. And it didn't have any rice. Which is why some people claim it's the best, but something felt missing. Still worth fighting the crowds for, at least.