04.16.2018
R.E.M.
Monster

I've been listening to "What's The Frequency Kenneth" endlessly in the last few days. It's a strange choice, I know, but the song has completely hooked itself into me. The proximate blame goes to Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's new podcast "R U Talking R.E.M. Re: Me?", where they talk about R.E.M. for an hour every week, even though they haven't even gotten to Monster yet, and really I don't find their analysis and discussion of the band all that interesting. It's just a fun goofy listen. But what it has done is made me revisit their records with fresher ears, and ultimately that's what's making me think I've grossly underestimated these guys my whole life. They're really fascinating once you lay it all out, almost by being so un fascinating. There are no major peaks and valleys to their career; there's no drama, no grand failed experiments, no major lineup changes. And yet since 1983, these dudes have released so many undeniable hit songs, entirely in their own voice, making (practically) no concessions to fashion or popularity. Every single album (at least until the 21st century, where you can forgive them for being 20 years into their career) has at least one song on it, usually 2 or 3 and sometimes 4, which would be any other band's creative pinnacle, most of which have since entered whatever we can describe as the modern rock/pop canon. It's remarkable.

Even Monster, which at the time perhaps got some criticism for selling out to some grungy, alt-rock zeitgeist, has mostly aged beautifully, and contains at least 2 all time greats. One of which, to take us back to the lede, is "What's The Frequency Kenneth", which, again, was kinda made fun of at the time for being alt rock nonsense. But listen to it! It's great! It's an undeniable jam. And even though they might've distorted the guitar a little more than previous albums, it is anything but a grunge cash in. It's pure and beautiful and perfect. And lucky for all of us, you can find dozens of copies Monster for $2 or less at every used record store and thrift shop in the country.

04.15.2018
Hop Along
Bark Your Head Off

I wish this rocked more.

04.04.2018
Daphne & Celeste
Daphne & Celeste Save The World

Okay, the title up there says "Daphne & Celeste Save The World," which is technically true, albeit probably meaningless to anyone reading this right now. But in reality, this is really a Max Tundra album, his first in a decade. Whu-whu-whaaat? Let me explain, because it's bizarre!

Backstory #1 is that Daphne & Celeste were a thoroughly disposable teen pop duo in England back in 2000, who had one or two earworm bubblegum pop hits that apparently had no traction in the US, but drove the Brits completely crazy. Like "Barbie Girl" and "Crazy Frog" levels of crazy. There's a famous story about them playing at some festival and basically having shit thrown at them from the crowd to get off the stage. Backstory #2, is that Max Tundra is this insane genius electronic experimentalist with a knack for undeniable pop melodicism and a cheeky sense of humor, who spends years and years completely out of the public eye, seemingly too clever for his own well being, crafting his music like one of those guys who carves photorealistic landscapes on thousands of grains of rice. It's been 10 years since the last Max Tundra album, Parallax Error Beheads You, and I basically assumed he was dead.

But what happened is he was actually writing and recording his new album. Except instead of a Max Tundra album, it's a Daphne & Celeste album??? Listening to this record, there is no confusion about who's music this is. This is Max Tundra through and through, from the batshit cut up production, to the melodic signatures, to the fact that there is at least one love song to a synthesizer. No, not recorded with a synthesizer, but about a synthesizer. Did I mention Max Tundra is the best? Anyway, while his own voice is nowhere to be heard, Daphne & Celeste do just fine taking his place, and give the whole album a surreal feel of a bubblegum pop album completely out of time, frankensteined together almost as a joke, but way too comprehensive and smart to actually be a joke. I don't know how this project came together, how Tundra convinced Daphne & Celeste to jump off a cliff with him, but holy hell is it weird and fascinating and a complete joy.

04.03.2018
Mount Eerie
Now Only

The last Mount Eerie album was a towering masterpiece of grief and honesty and poetry, born out real life death and mourning, completely uncritiqueable and undeniably perfect. Now Only feels like a lesser, lighter follow up to that one, even though it is also all of those things. But it couldn't really be anything else, and that's okay. RIYL: crying.

04.02.2018
4th Curtis
I Won the Pageant

Holy cow, it's a local band that's actually good and actually excites me! 4th Curtis—not to be confused with Cowboy Curtis—plays totally solid 90's alt-rock-inspired indie pop on Girlpool-Trust Fund-Frankie Cosmos spectrum. I saw them performing randomly at halftime of a roller derby event, expected absolutely nothing of them, and after just a couple songs was totally sold. They're good! Good songs! Good music! Cool!

04.02.2018
Augie March
Bootikins

Once again, as is standard practice with me and this band over the last decade, Augie March has released an album completely under the radar. These guys basically don't exist outside Australia at this point, so any announcement of new music was probably contained in the southern hemisphere. But as also is standard practice with Augie March, this album is skillfully constructed and thoroughly enjoyable.

04.02.2018
Screaming Females
All At Once

It's always a funny criticism to levy, but I think I'd like this album a lot more if it was half the length that it is. 15 tracks! Who needs 15 tracks in 2018? Gimme your best 8 rockers, cut out all the oddball dirges and half-electro experiments, and we've got another winner on our hands. Not a Rose Mountain level winner, but good shit nonetheless. But as it stands, it's a good album with some skippable tracks, and some more hummable leanings than their previous albums—a couple downright radio-ready tracks, if rock radio was still a thing. It's good. They're good.

03.19.2018
The Decemberists
I'll Be Your Girl

I was going to say this is the worst Decemberists album, but then I remembered Hazards of Love exists, so I'm not very sure anymore.

02.24.2018
Ought
Room Inside The World

Ought has never fully won me over on a single album. I'm fully in love with 3-4 of their songs, but a lot of their other ones are just a little too Wire/Fall/post-punky for my baby ears. But when they're on, they're on. Italicized. This new one, then, is a bit surprising; it doesn't have that 1 killer single, but at the same time, the whole record comes together better for me than their others. Mostly that's because they've clearly shifted their sound into a more "melodic" direction. Scare quotes mandatory, since their singer has a, um, unique (italicized) way of delivering words into a microphone. Speaking of unique vocalizing, do you like Future Islands?

02.24.2018
Andy Shauf
The Party

Here's one I seriously missed from 2016. In fact I think most people missed it. Most people except for Cornelius and Jeff Tweedy, both of which are on record in interviews mentioning Andy Shauf as one of their favorite new artists. And if Jeff Tweedy and Cornelius recommend somebody, I am absolutely on board, and it took me less than 30 seconds of listening to one track on this album to be totally sold. This is some Jim O'Rourke-level guitar pop arrangement, with melodies that are immediately impactful (and winding and dreamy and all those other good words), sung by a guy who almost sounds like the singer from Clinic. Just weird enough. And I guess this record is a concept album about a party. Anyway, had I known about this in 2016, it certainly would've made my Best Of The Year list. Maybe not #1, but damn high anyway.

02.24.2018
Rhye
Blood

I'm a little bummed that this new Rhye album isn't better than it is.

02.24.2018
Jeff Rosenstock
POST

This dude Jeff Rosenstock is a famous and respected figurehead of the 21st century punk-ska scene. I'll pause until you stop laughing. Anyway he's actually a legit good dude, and writes songs that far exceed what you'd expect from such a dude; his solo stuff, like this new POST record is really more power pop than pop punk. But it's a little of that, too. Anyway, POST is really frikkin good, and he yells "FUCK NO!" in one song and it gives me shivers, man.

Oh, and a couple songs sound like Aqueduct, which is weird.

01.16.2018
Steve's Favorite Music of 2017
A List

1. Girlpool - Powerplant
2. Cornelius - Mellow Waves
3. Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau - Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
4. Ryan Adams - Prisoner
5. One And Future Band - Once and Future Band
6. Sampha - Process
7. Mastodon - Cold Dark Place EP
8. Kendrick Lamar - Damn
9. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
10. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy

10.31.2017
Bell Witch
Mirror Reaper

Slow.

10.17.2017
St. Vincent
Masseduction

I had prepared myself to spew my righteous rockist anger at this, St. Vincent's ironic-but-not-ironic-but-maybe-ironic pop cash grab. Produced by that guy who produces everything. Beats by cool beatmakers. A self consciously sexy and colorful marketing push. Pre-release singles that were about Weezer-level dumb things like Los Angeles phonies and, like, pills. Holy shit was I going to tear this album a new one. Or maybe I'd say "Um actually it's a work of genius!". One of those two.

But really, all I have to say is that it's just good. That's it. It's really not much different stylistically than her last album and a half. The pop thing isn't really a thing, and there's just as much guitar wizardry as I'd hope. But still, "Pills"? Really?

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Thai CafeSt. Paul
Sour pork ribs

The Thai Cafe might be the most indistinguishablest of all the indistinguishable Thai and Vietnamese places clustered on University Avenue in St. Paul. That name, Thai Cafe. I mean, it's not wrong! Or is it? It's really just a restaurant, not exactly a care. But what is a cafe? Where does that line get drawn? Anyway, it really doesn't matter that they have a boring name, because like Clark Kent spinning around in a broom closet and becoming Batman (did I do that right?), the Thai Cafe has a superpower called Sour Pork Ribs. These things, man. The City Pages Best-Of write up specifically mentioned the sour pork ribs, the Eater write up mentioned the pork ribs, and sure enough every other table in the restaurant had ordered the sour pork ribs. Garlicky, sour, pleasantly chewy, sour, spicy, sour, very red. So red. I don't want to go all the way in saying that the Thai Cafe is the best Thai Place in town; the other dishes were above average, but these dang ribs are good enough that it's automatically in the conversation.

04.03.2018 - by Steve
Halftime RecSt. Paul
Cheeseburger

On a search for some good St. Paul burger spots (aside from the obvious Nook or Blue Door), I kept seeing Halftime Rec pop up on lists. More specifically, I saw "The Paddy Shack at Halftime Rec". Whatever that means. Halftime Rec is one of those classic St. Paul bars that I've heard about a bunch, but always assumed was just a dumb sports bar. But I think I might've confused it with Gabe's In The Park, because really Halftime Rec is more of a classic corner dive. It's big, but there's really not much to it. Which is great. Why they call the food "The Paddy Shack At..." I'm still not sure, but whatever. Anyway, we got this supposedly famous burger of theirs, and it was fine but nothing special. Give it a shot anyway though, it's a decent little place.

06.13.2016 - by Steve
The French Hen CafeSt. Paul
Banh mi benedict

A banh mi benedict! It's like banh mi! But in benedict form! Are you slapping your forehead as much as I am? It's so obvious. Honestly this is one of the best breakfasts I've had in a long time—pretty much perfect. And this one meal alone (and a couple bites of their shockingly dense yet somehow still moist pancakes) has vaulted the French Hen up towards the top of the Twin Cities breakfast joint hierarchy as far as I'm concerned.

02.21.2016 - by Steve
Surly Brewing Co.St. Paul
Brisket sandwich

I don't drink beer. But I do eat brisket sandwiches. And this was a good (if slightly overpriced) brisket sandwich. And even better (but still overpriced) corn bread. Apparently people like their beer, too. But you know what people don't like? Communal seating. Nobody.


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02.11.2016 - by Steve
Red LanternSt. Paul
Sushi, Japanese sausages

Aged tuna nigiri: great. Red snapper nigiri: great. Flounder and shiso nigiri: great. Kampachi nigiri: great. Urchin nigiri: great. Scraped tuna nigiri: great. Winter roll: great. Prices: high. Waitstaff: obnoxious. Japanese sausage: tastes like lil smokies. Bartender's Asian-person impression: regretful. TV behind the bar: Pokemon. Location: the old Fuji Ya space in St. Paul. Original location: White Bear Lake (really!). Ramen: TBD. Red Lantern: sure!

01.29.2016 - by Steve
Saint DinetteSt. Paul
Bologna sandwich, latkes

The Saint Dinette, see, isn't actually a dinette. It's irony. Because it's kinda fancy, see. Right there, top of the menu, you can't even pronounce that stuff! But then a few items below those, here's one you can pronounce, despite its tricky spelling—a bologna sandwich! Well what the heck! That's not fancy! I ate those as a kid! I'll have one, please! This'll probably be the best bologna sandwich you've ever had, because it's on the menu at a place that uses "dinette" ironically. Except it's kinda salty and super greasy and desperately needs some sort of mustard.

This second paragraph is about the potato latkes, which were delicious, and don't deserve to be in that previous snark-filled diatribe, even if they were no better than the delicious latkes you'd get at Cecil's, a place which is much closer to actually being a "dinette." Really, the bologna didn't deserve it either. It was fine. The Saint Dinette is fine.

01.29.2016 - by Steve
Mama's PizzaSt. Paul
Pizza, pasta

Mama's Pizza, you St. Paul residents have had me believe, is the city's hidden gem of a neighborhood pizza place. For years I have have heard your whispers and seen your Yelp stars. I even tried going this summer and found it to be packed to the brim and lined up out the door, so respected was its reputation. Well I've now eaten at Mama's Pizza, St. Paul residents—and I am not impressed. Its pizza is Red's Savoy with a more crackery crust. Its pasta is tame and dull even by Marcello's / Donatello's / Michaelangelo's standards. Like, I mean, it's fine though. If you're in the neighborhood, it's probably great to have around. Particularly the pizza. But don't worry if you're not. You have your own place nearby, I'm sure.

12.31.2015 - by Steve
Hoa BienSt. Paul
Bánh xèo, beef noodle salad

Hey, you! There's more to Vietnamese food than banh mi and pho, okay? And it all contains rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint and fish sauce. Lots of it. And if you want some of it, you could do worse than Hoa Bien I guess. Just bring like four more people with you.

12.31.2015 - by Steve
Ha Tien MarketSt. Paul
Banh Mi

This was a good banh mi. Maybe not the best banh mi, but it was a good banh mi. This place does have a bunch of other stuff in its deli that all looks delicious though, and I want to try one of each. I just don't know what any of it is.

12.03.2015 - by Steve
The Buttered TinSt. Paul
Turkey dinner hand-pie, cinnamon roll

The Buttered Tin seems like a real nightmare for Sunday brunch—people everywhere, cramped seating, all the hallmarks—even if the food is good. Luckily they also have a decent selection of pastries if you can squeeze your way to the counter. The cinnamon roll: exactly as good as it looks. The salted caramel chocolate cookie: rich. But the hero was the 'turkey dinner hand-pie,' a seasonal (I assume) pasty-style concoction filled with turkey and gravy and cranberries and maybe some mashed potato. It was even better than my own Thanksgiving leftovers. All in all, this place seems alright—like a more modern and slightly better Turtle Bread. Hopefully I can get one more turkey hand pie before they shut them down for the season.

11.26.2015 - by Steve
Ward 6St. paul
Biscuits and Gravy

I like Ward 6 so far. Just based on their brunch, I guess, but just the mood and atmosphere and ambience of the place felt very positive to me. Friendly and unfussy. The kind of place that, despite being new and popular, is becoming an endangered species. I had the biscuits and gravy, not the absolute best I've ever had, but still better than your average diner b&g. The harissa-spiked eggs benedict was also better than average, though not paradigm shifting. The beignets... skip'em.


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11.13.2015 - by Steve
Bonnie's CafeSt. Paul
Breakfast stuff

Hey check it out, it's a breakfast review! What a treat. I ate this morning at Bonnie's Cafe in St. Paul, on University and Cretin. Or Vandalia? Whatever. This is one of those increasingly rare places that is truly a hole-in-the-wall, neighborhood mom-n-pop breakfast nook. It's the very definition of a small town greasy spoon diner, seemingly untouched—save for some occasional paint jobs—since about 1960. It's charming. It's kinda gross, but it's charming. Unfortunately, where Bonnie's can't keep up with its across-the-river contemporaries of Al's Breakfast and the Ideal Diner, is that it's just kinda not very good. It's fine, just your regular run of the mill breakfast fare, but nothing beyond what you could get anywhere else. No reason to go out of your way.

11.01.2015 - by Steve
Cheng HengSt. Paul
Lemongrass soup, mushroom noodle thing?

Cambodian food. Sounds exotic, right? I suppose, relatively, it is. But when you look at a map to see where the heck Cambodia actually is, you'll see it's smack dab in between Vietnam and Thailand, and that seems to be just what you get with Cambodian food—Thai to the left, Vietnamese to the right, and lots of soup. But anyway, Cheng Heng, a pretty nondescript spot in between a hundred of nondescript spots on University, is one of the only "Cambodian" restaurants in the city. Maybe the only? But it's good! Very good! Definitely better than a handful of Thai and Vietnamese spots you could try. There's not a ton of detail I can get into; the lemongrass soup was lemongrassy and delicious. The mushroomy noodley thing was mushroomy and noodley and delicious. And even had some edible flowers mixed in! I think. I don't know. Cheng Heng was real good. And there was at least a dozen other items on their menu I want to try. They'll be seeing more of me.


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08.31.2015 - by Steve
Skinners PubSt. Paul
Steak sandwich

Skinner's Pub isn't great. Its food is probably just above average for a little corner dive. They don't seem to be "famous" for any particular menu item, like Matt's jucy lucy, or the 1029's lobster rolls. They've got pizza, because they seem to have merged with a pizza parlour at some point. They've got fried chicken, which is probably no worse than a decent grocery store deli fried chicken. But I love this place nonetheless, simply for its pure unhipness. It's a true neighborhood bar, in a quiet little corner of St. Paul, filled with true neighborhood bar types, a pinball machine, and a mediocre folk singer performing on the patio. It was even charming that 4 employees were battling to keep a river rat from coming in the back door. It was a real hoot. And I've had worse steak sandwiches.

07.19.2015 - by Steve
The Happy GnomeSt. Paul
Poutine, elk burger

Hey, St. Paulites, you won. I finally went to your damn Happy Gnome. A place that you people seem to hold in the highest esteem, yet barely registers in the minds of Minnaepolites. But I went. And I'm glad, because it was good. Specifically, its poutine, which is really like poutine on steroids, fully baked with all sort of sausage and cheese and surprises, was good. Really good. Not as good as the Rabbit Hole's HK poutine, but that's a different category altogether. Anyway, I liked the Happy Gnome a lot in general (my burger was undercooked almost to the point of 'gross,' but that's okay). Even though it fits right into the mold of "gastropub," there seemed to be a real honesty about it, an integrity. Which makes sense, because I guess they were really one of the first. They're not playing make believe like so many other similar joints these days, they're one of the prototypes. I'll definitely go back, if I could remember where it was.


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