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.

05.09.2020
Pure X
Pure X

The first 5 seconds of this album is the album of the year. The dirtiest, grimiest, distortiest guitar you've ever heard, but it's actually playing rich chords, deep grooves. I think the rest of the album is pretty good too, but all that really matters is that one track, "Middle America," and all that really matters about that one track is that damn guitar. (Also, not actually album of the year, that's just a little hyperbole to make for a fun blog. But shit.)

04.28.2020
Gaytheist
How Long Have I Been On Fire

This band is called Gaytheist and they started as a novelty gay-themed metal band in Portland. And they're way better than those two statements would have you imagine.

04.28.2020
Nicolas Jaar
Cenizas

Cenizas is one of the most perfect walking-around-late-at-night-with-headphones albums I've heard in a long, long time. Probably since the last Nicolas Jaar album.

04.28.2020
Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters

If you're reading this in the future (and of course you are, because that's how this whole reading and writing thing works), more specifically, years or perhaps even a decade or two into the future, I wonder what you think of Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Do you think anything of it? Do you think it's a laughable mess and wonder how on earth it got rave reviews upon its release? Or has it grown into an all time classic, an era-defining work of art? What's Fiona up to these days? What did she do after this? And like, did we ever make it out of this mess?

Those are things I wonder. But there are a couple things I need you to know about this album at this time. Foremost is that, for a brief moment, one late Thursday night through the weekend, it was Special. Truly, genuinely, heart-achingly special. This is a shitty time we're living in—not just the pandemic, but everything surrounding, leading up to, and being borne out of it. The bad guys just keep winning, and everything is hopeless. Shit sucks. And not to go too philosophical, shit has sucked for a lot longer than this difficult time. It's sucked specifically women for a whole lot longer than that. And then, just a couple Thursday nights ago, Fiona Apple (already beloved amongst the more in-touch populations of music nerd-dom, and perhaps even beloved-er over the last year after her classic song "Criminal" appeared in a memorable scene in the pretty-good movie Hustlers), decided she was going to release her new album early, and it was exactly what we all needed.

For a couple days, none of the other shit mattered. Fiona was saying everything we've wanted to hear, spewing fire, line after line, song after song, truths we've all been thinking for years now. This world is bullshit. It immediately got rave reviews from outlet after outlet. It famously, in a matter of just a couple hours, got a 10 on Pitchfork, and you'd have a hard time finding anybody who didn't think it deserved every decimal of it. People on Twitter were losing their shit, changing their screen names to bolt-cutter-related puns, changing their avatars to Fiona. Something about the music on this album—the primitive percussive pounding, the gut wrenching vocal missives, the hot knife sharp lyrical veracity—got into not just the zeitgeist, but deep into people's psyches, like no other music release I've experienced in my lifetime. More than Kid A, more than any Kanye release, more than Lemonade or 1984. Which is especially impressive considering this album is nuts. And beautiful. It brought me to the point of tears 4 different times on my first listen. Which I don't mention because I think bringing someone to tears is a reliable sign of a good piece of art, or that I'm trying to cash in some woke points for being a sensitive male or some bullshit—simply that Fetch the Bolt Cutters contains a power that transcends music.

You're in the future, and I have no idea how that statement will land with you. Maybe we're all suffering mass psychosis. Maybe it's just a noisy, fussy follow-up to her actual masterpiece The Idler Wheel. Maybe everyone makes jokes about that "10" that's still sitting on its Pitchfork review. To be honest, after that first weekend finished and Monday rolled around again, and the bullshit of this world kept on piling up and the people in charge kept on shoveling onto it, we all moved on. But for about 3 days, we felt like we might actually win, and Fiona was leading the fucking charge.

You're in the future, and I hope the bolt cutters have been fetched.

04.18.2020
The Mountain Goats
Songs for Pierre Chuvin

I never got into the Mountain Goats until they (he) was past their (his) extremely lo-fi, record-directly-into-a-boombox-cassette phase. My intro happened I believe around 2009 when The Life of the World To Come was released, which more or less marked the beginning of what might be phase three of the Mountain Goats. We're talking full band, pristinely engineered, studio recorded collections of songs which generally floated around (or directly interrogated) a single theme—not quite rock opera style, but far more linear than the lyrical concerns of most other bands. Life of The World still feels like a wonderful album to me, but in the 10 years since, I have to admit their output has suffered from long, slow, diminishing returns. And despite the thematic differences (one album about professional wrestling, one album about a D&D campaign), their studio sound has sounded more or less the same from album to album. Crisp and clean and full, yes, but the spark from those early boombox recordings has been sanded off almost completely.

But then what happened—have you heard?—is we're suddenly living in these difficult times. John Darnielle is stuck at home, and is sitting on a pile of songs. And whether he came up with the idea, or whether hoards of his fans shouted the idea at him after hearing him play some of his new songs into his smartphone camera, he decided to get his old boombox out and record Songs for Pierre Chuvin

It's a minor revelation. The joy of hearing him shout these words onto a tinny hissing cassette tape is genuinely refreshing. I don't think the studio sheen was ever hurting the Mountain Goats necessarily, but you hear him play these songs and you realize how unnecessary it's been, like we've been missing out on something essential about his songs for the last decade.

But that's the other thing. I don't know if these songs are exactly up to the task. They're interesting, they're clever, they make you want to know what's going on (did I mention the whole album is based off a book by a Harvard historian about the pagan cultures of the 5th century AD who were confronting the new specter of mass Christianity entering their worlds? That's what the album is about. That's what the phase three Mountain Goats do). But no single track on it has the power of his best early work. "This Year," "No Children," "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton", these are the obvious 3, but the list could go on well beyond that. Those songs were deeply human, richly described, absolutely cutting in a real way. I don't remember the last song Darnielle has written that's cut to a core in the way that these do, and none of the songs on Songs for Pierre Chuvin hit that mark, despite the boombox.

Still, simply listening to Darnielle sing his guts out into a boombox was exactly what some of us needed right now. Well, until we were asked to Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

02.11.2020 - by Steve
Tay HoSt. Paul
Pork chop

It's a classic Music & Food February Backlog! I did the year end lists, and then decided to take a month (or 2?) off, and now suddenly I have way too many new food posts to food post, so I'm just going to leave this here and make it quick:

Tay Ho is pretty good, you could do worse.

07.24.2018 - by Steve
The Naughty GreekSt. Paul
Lamb

I hate that this place is called The Naughty Greek, I hate their logo, I hate the graphics on their wall, and I hate that they call it "Athenian street food." But this is honestly the best Greek food I've had in the cities. Wildly good.

07.23.2018 - by Steve
Mucci'sSt. Paul
Lasagna, donuts

A Mucci's review, in 3 parts.

Part I:
I live in St. Paul now. Maybe I've told you this. Less than a block from where I recently moved to—really more like on the back side of my block and down a few lots—is Mucci's, an Italian restaurant. Mucci's popped up a short time ago. A year? Two years? I don't know exactly, because it's St. Paul, and as I said, I didn't live in St. Paul before now. But Mucci's didn't exist before, and suddenly it exists. And it's weird. Because it should be a "good" restaurant; small corner space, no big annoying sign, quiet residential neighborhood which isn't quite to the point of being "up and coming" just yet, just trying to play it cool. But then, just as suddenly, the local grocery store chain is selling Mucci's frozen pizzas! This doesn't make sense. How can this place suddenly be selling frozen pizzas while also being a small, respectable little neighborhood Italian restaurant?

Part II:
You know that thing people say about eating at a good restaurant on a Sunday night? Where they say "You shouldn't eat at a good restaurant on a Sunday night"? I think maybe that might've been the problem. Because we first ate at Mucci's on a Sunday night, and it was rough. Undercooked garlic bread. Undercooked noodles. Lasagna that was both burnt and seemingly reheated from about 2 days previous. I think it all could've been good; not amazing, but good. But they seemingly just had the C-squad staff on for that Sunday night, and were just getting rid of Friday's lasagna. In short, it was a huge bummer.

Part III:
Did I mention I live in St. Paul now, just around the corner from Mucci's? Because another weird thing about the place that I learned from walking past the sandwich board outside is that they serve donuts on the weekends! Just like all the Italian restaurants in Italy! So even after the weird-to-bad experience on that Sunday night, they're still the closest place to get a donut on a Sunday morning. The first donut attempt was a minor letdown; much like many high-priced "good" donuts in the world, they just didn't cut it. They were weirdly wet, hard to eat, and not really worth the price. However, on the second donut attempt (really the third Mucci's attempt in general, which is incredible considering how hard they blew the first one), there was light. The parmesan cheese donut. We're talking just a regular cake donut, with a subtle glaze on it, not too sweet, and topped with sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan. I don't know if this is a thing that other donut places have tried, but something about the savory bite of the cheese on top of a just slightly sweet donut really, really worked. Really one of the best fancy donuts I've ever had. My only real gripe is that it's too big, and hard to eat much more than half of the donut, since the cheese gets rich. But dang, this donut was good enough to make me want to give Mucci's a fourth chance.

06.19.2018 - by Steve
TavialSt. Paul
Tacos al pastor

Hey, guess what?? I moved to St. Paul! Yessir, down to the Irish Catholic boonies of ol' Pig's Eye, more or less the middle of nowhere, just off West 7th. There's not a whole lot of food around here. Mostly just a shocking number of shockingly similar Irish bars—or at least bars with shamrocks in their logos. And Mucci's. But we'll get to Mucci's later. The one bright spot so far, however, is Tavial, a little taqueria located in what was probably a fast food joint of some sort. I was told that this place was good, but that recommendation left off about 4 o's, because Tavial is gooooood. Truly some of the best tacos I've had in this town, full stop. Even their rice is better than the usual spanish rice you get at these places. The al pastor was the clear winner, but I also had carnitas, which was just as crispy and flavorful as you'd hope carnitas to be. You know what? I'm going to add 4 more o's. Tavial is gooooooooood.

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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