09.10.2019
Tool
Fear Inoculum

The thought of sitting at my keyboard and typing out my thoughts about this album is fucking exhausting.

08.22.2019
Young Guv
Guv I

The original selling point with me and Young Guv was that it's the side project of Ben Cook, the main guitarist from Fucked Up. One of the main selling points of Fucked Up, of course, is that underneath the throat-destroying hardcore vocals is a bunch of super layered, pan-genre, too-pretty-for-hardcore guitar work. So the idea of hearing what Cook has up his sleeve for his own non-hardcore project, even one with as dumb of a name as Young Guv, is enticing.

So Fucked Up got me into the door, but what happened next is that I can't stop listening to this dang thing. I've already thrown away any association I have with that other band, and am enjoying this record on repeat (seriously, I listened to it about 6 times in the first couple days) solely as one of the best power pop albums I've heard in a long time. I'm sure every review of it out there has used the word "jangly," but that's only because thing thing is jangly as fuck! So yeah, Cook knows how to layer a guitar or two, but he can also write a hell of a melody. and I cannot get enough of it. Kind of like Nude Beach a few years ago, it's just an album that hooks into you, feeling like you've been hearing these songs for years, even though you don't remember where they came from.

Fucked Up? More like Thumbs Up!

08.09.2019
Elder
The Gold & Silver Sessions

Elder rules and this is a quick one-off instrumental EP they did where they just kinda jam for a while and Elder rules.

08.05.2019
Miracle Legion
Surprise Surprise Surprise

You probably remember—fondly, I assume—The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You probably fondly remember the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You might not necessarily remember that the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete was called "Hey Sandy," and was by a band called Polaris. (Side note: If you were me, you probably spent almost 20 years thinking that Polaris was a local Minneapolis band, because you confused them with an actual Minneapolis band called Polera. But you aren't me). You might, after fondly remembering all of these things, go and look into Polaris's other music, but you'll find very little. But the one important thing you will find is Miracle Legion.

Polaris wasn't really a band; it was a one-off side project made up of a couple members of Miracle Legion, a New Haven based indie rock band which had released a couple college rock radio hits in the mid and late 80s and gathered a respectable regional following, as well as more than a few comparisons to their mid-late-80s indie rock peers R.E.M. In the mid 90s, when the makers of Pete and Pete—two of those devoted regional fans—wanted to get Miracle Legion to write and perform the theme song to the show, they discovered that they were just a bit too late; the band was basically on the verge of breaking up. Instead, Mark Mulcahy and the one or two other members that didn't currently hate each other got together under the name Polaris to record for the show.

The rest is history I guess. Except that Polaris never gained a following or recorded any other albums, and hordes of Nickelodeon fans didn't exactly flood record stores to pick up any Miracle Legion albums. But I did. 20 years later at least. And I'm absolutely delighted. Miracle Legion's discography is a secret cache of beautifully sentimental indie pop, sitting there unspoiled waiting for us. I'm probably more primed for this type of music than I might've been in previous years thanks to my recentish deep dive into R.E.M., because, yes, the old complaint is that they do sort of sound like R.E.M. But also not; Mulcahy's voice and vocalizations and lyricism immediately stands apart (not saying it's better, just apart) from Stipe's, even if some of the jangly, arpeggiating, clean electric guitar sounds and slightly wet straightforward drumming might, sure, come off a little Athens. But I've already wasted too much text talking about the comparison.

I've liked what I've heard from their few other albums, but I absolutely love Surprise Surprise Surprise. It's not the catchiest thing you've ever heard—I couldn't even hum you any of its melodies right now if I tried—but the mood and depth and sheer competency of the whole thing is a breath of fresh air. It's adult music. Maybe that speaks to how they never 'made it,' because there's no easy takeaways here for teenagers of the time to latch on to (as they did with that other band that keeps coming up), no obvious hit singles, nothing really in particular that would make them stand out. But hearing it now, at this age, it's clearly a special record, an honest record, and one that is giving me a singular sensation of feeling like it's been missing from my life until now. I mean, that sounds pretty dramatic I guess, but it's true.

I have a whole other paragraph to write about the serendipity of finding Surprise Surprise Surprise on vinyl at Academy Records the other week, but this post is so dang long already I'll not bore you with that. Just, hey, Miracle Temple is a miracle. That's not a pun.

07.29.2019
Joanna Sternberg
Then I Try Some More

Then I Try Some More initially excited me. It's a folk album that actually sounds like folk, not just some quiet singing over some guitary strums. It has real melodies, sing songy in the way that Woody Guthry and Burl Ives were, these trusty prehistoric song structures that have been sitting around waiting to get used again. Sure, she sings a shit lot like the other Joanna, and occasionally even maybe borrows a melodic line now and then, but that's okay because the other Joanna was just borrowing it from Joni Mitchell anyway, kind of a white elephant thing.

The problem is that these songs are bummers. There's a dark pessimism, bordering on depression, in just about every song here—but not the tortured-poet Elliott Smith kind of pessimism that makes you dream about being in a punk in LA or something. This is more of a "I'm young and the world sucks and nobody around me understands the real pain I'm in" kind. Just look at that album title. I'm not complaining that it's some phony, put-on pain to write songs, you can feel the real tendrils of sadness here. It's all too real. Even her singing voice sounds like a scared person holding back tears. And my 2nd or 3rd time through the album, I just hit the wall. I can't do it anymore. Joanna Sternberg is going to break through whatever darkness helped create this album, and I'll be there to listen to it. But for now I'm going to put it on the shelf with A Crow Looked At Me and feel okay with not basking in someone else's pain.

07.25.2019
Nilufer Yanya
Miss Universe

Nilufer Yanya, along with Mitski and American Pleasure Club, sounds to me to be the fully formed identity of what guitar based music of the post-millennial, fully-online 21st century youth sounds like. They've grown up with the monogenre, plugged in to any and all music whenever they want, hyper produced pop and rap ruling the airwaves (whatever that might mean anymore), seeing Kanye, Gaga, Beyonce, BTS, and a very old Rivers Cuomo as the biggest rock stars in the world, probably embarrassed that they used to be into Imagine Dragons and Maroon 5 when they were younger, and eventually having their minds blown and eyes opened by, seemingly, St. Vincent. It's a youth that's basically foreign to me, but it's interesting to hear how it's been filtered through their music. Live and programmed drums are interchangeable; guitars are processed to the point of sounding like synths; synths are processed to the point of sounding like guitars; the singing is far more indebted to modern R&B coyness than balls-out rock wailing; some songs rock, some songs pop, and they're trying very hard to sound like they're not really trying (so I guess things haven't really changed since my youth).

This Nilufer Yanya album, specifically, blurs all the lines. I'm actually a little bummed by that, because a couple songs in the front half of the album (particularly "In Your Head") are totally solid rock songs that are unafraid of melody and hooks in a way that a lot of 90s and 00s rock were certainly not. But it seems the second side of the record loses interest in guitars and drums and just throws a bunch of synthy pop jams at the wall, and suffers for it. Still, there's something pure and "new" about what Yanya (and Mitski and APC) is doing, and it officially makes me old.

07.07.2019
Black Midi
Schlagenheim

Black Midi (or, if you're following their their own style guide, black midi) appeared in England this year, as English bands occasionally do, surrounded by some of the most hyperbolic praise you've ever heard, fully mysterious, mercurial, seemingly ready to redefine the very nature of guitar-based Western music as we know it. But this was only coming from people who'd seem them at one of their many infamous live shows at random London clubs over the course of the year; they had recorded nothing so there was no other way to judge.

Then they released a couple songs, and it was like, "Oh shit. This might be for real."

Then they released a few more, played some American shows (in Minneapolis of all places!), and did a full performance filmed for KEXP, and the mystery wasn't quite as mysterious anymore. But they were clearly still very talented and just bathed in potential.

Then they released their debut LP Schlagenheim, and all the hype and potential and insanity has turned into something far more simple: Black Midi is a very good mathy post-hardcore band. They don't sound like nothing we've ever heard before; they sound like Battles, they sound like Shellac, they sound like At the Drive In, they sound like Hella. But! They sound like Black Midi too. And they sound very very good. The other thing about this group is that they're all babies—teenagers when they started, they're all 20 or 21 now—but they sound like they've been playing with each other for a decade. Absolutely tight, absolutely slotted.

There is some "jazz" in their music, in that they're listening to one another and I'm sure there's improvisation at work, even though I'd not want to push that angle too far. They're just 4 fucking talented instrumentalists totally locked in and not afraid to make weird, heavy music in 2019. No, they're not changing the game or redefining the meaning of music in the 21st century, but they're running laps around a lot of the other bands who tried to do what they're doing 10 years ago, when it was a cooler thing to do. So shit, I'll allow them some hype for that.

This time next year they'll be broken up. I'm sure of it.

06.22.2019
Bruce Springsteen
Western Stars

I haven't listened to enough latter-day Springsteen albums in my life to properly place Western Stars into context. To be totally honest, I haven't even listened to enough old Springsteen albums to do so either. Still, I am shocked—shocked—at how good about half this album is. This is some of the most beautiful music I've heard all year. "Hello Sunshine" floored me when it first circulated online earlier this Spring; I listened to it about 10 times that day and it hasn't lost a bit of its power today. "The Wayfarer" could've been an all-timer tune with the E Street Band in the 70s, but works just as well in the rhinestone cowboy context of this record sung by a very different kind of 70's Bruce. "Drive Fast," "Stones," and "Somewhere North of Nashville," "Chasin' Wild Horses" and the title track "Western Stars" all cover similar acoustic ballad territory but are equally powerful. "Sundown" is corny but hearing Bruce belt the chorus like the finale of a Grand Ol Opry Vegas revue is riveting.

The rest of the songs are awful.

Truly. The gap between the good stuff and the bad stuff on this album is unlike anything in recent memory. Clearly some of these tunes were recorded at different sessions with different producers and different musicians, and it shows and it's a bummer. It's crazy to say a 2019 album by a nearly 70-year-old Bruce Springsteen inspired by Glen Campbell and George Jones and 1960s California country western pop ballads could've been one of the best albums of the decade (and his career?). It could've been the anti-Cash: aging icon makes an album about the pain of being an aging icon, except instead death and despair it's sunshine and hope. Like I said, the good songs here are fantastic. But if he just could've hooked up with the right producers and collaborators to fill this thing out—Van Dyke Parks? T Bone Burnett? Brandi Carlile? Owen Pallett? Matthew White? Dare I fucking say Jon Brion?—this could've been a head-spinning album. At the very least someone should've told him not to put "Sleepy Joe's Cafe" on there.


(2)
06.18.2019
Cate Le Bon
Reward

I went into this liking Cate Le Bon a lot. Her music is weird and unique, but has a calming sincerity to it, and is always 100% her. The couple lead singles I heard to this new one Reward had me on the edge of my seat, ready to call it the album of the year, and not need to listen to anything else between now and January. To quote something I wrote in an unnamed comment section somewhere, "I loved the songs on the last Cate Le Bon record, but I feel like these new ones actually love me back." And they do. The rest of the album though, is closer to more-of-the-same. Which is still great. But like I still want to listen to other things too.

06.18.2019
Wuhling
Extra 6

Here's the chain of events:

• I logged on to Facebook and saw a post I made one year ago about Steve Albini winning money in the World Series of Poker tournament.
• Curious about how he fared or if he entered this year's tournament, I googled "Steve Albini World Series of Poker." On Google, obviously.
• The search results were all from last year's story, but I went ahead and clicked on one of the links to refresh my memory on the story.
• In the intro to this story, it was mentioned that he'd talked in the past about being a poker player. This linked to a different article, and I clicked.
• This new story was from nearly 10 years ago, and talked about how a regular commenter on a popular poker message board, who was long rumored to be Albini, finally came clean and introduced himself. He then offered to answer any questions anyone on the board might have about his career in music.
• Some of the questions and answers were posted in the article, and one of them was about which albums he felt regret about—instances where he felt he could've done a better job, or didn't have the time to do his best work, etc. The answer he gave was the album Extra 6, a 1996 record by the mostly-forgotten post-rock band Wuhling. He said their first album sounded great, and he did their second, but for some reason it never sounded right to him, even though their songs and performances were solid, but he was never able to perfect it.
• Curious, having never heard of Wuhling, I Googled them (on Google, again). I certainly didn't recognize them or this album, but I listened to a bit of it on a random YouTube link, and enjoyed when I heard. They sound very much like a 1996 post rock group—shades of Slint, a little Tortoise, a little Mogwai, even more Slint, with the refreshing bonus of a minimalist female vocalist on most tracks. I decided I def want the album for my collection.
• Couldn't find it. It's not on iTunes/Bandcamp/Amazon or any other legit mp3 retailer. It's not on Spotify. Not surprising I guess, considering they were a German band who released just 2 albums in the 90s. Maybe I could find their CD at Academy Records or some weirdo NYC music place, but that could take a while.
• I couldn't even find it on random shady mp3 sharing blogs. Nowhere! So:
• I went the shadiest route of all: I used a tool to download the one YouTube version of the album as a single mp3 track, opened it up in my audio editor to separate the tracks, and bingo. All because Facebook reminded me about Steve Albini's 2018 poker victory.

More importantly, this album is actually pretty sweet. I've listened to the thing about 6 times since yesterday. It's nothing too crazy or particularly unique (did I mention Slint yet?), but it's totally solid and extremely listenable. I get Albini's complaint about it though; it sounds good, but it's flatter and duller than his usual samurai-sharp recordings. Some of that is probably because I'm listening to an mp3 rip of an mp3 rip of a YouTube upload of an mp3 rip of a 20 year old CD, but that's here nor there. This album is rad, Wuhling seems like they were cool, and the internet is weird.

06.22.2019 - by Steve
Roll N RoasterBrooklyn
Roast beef sandwich

If you follow me on any given social media platform, or perhaps on occasion even speak to me casually or professionally or otherwise, or maybe if you've sat in the same subway car or lingered within 100 feet of my open apartment windows in the last 3 weeks, you've probably heard me claim at least once that Roll N Roaster is the best restaurant in New York. Look, I know it's actually not. That's just hyperbole, ok? But what it is is a beautifully odd, oddly perfect, perfectly out-of-touch fast food institution in the equally out-of-touch deep Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay. It's one of those rare places that genuinely feels like it's from another era—untouched, unchanged, balancing on a terrifying equilibrium since 1970 of being successful enough that they didn't have to reinvent the wheel, but not so successful that monied interests tried to harness its name. Yellow formica booths, golden bubble glass features, sign-painted menu boards—Don Draper could've eaten at this place. He would've hated it but his kids would've loved it, so he'd just let them eat while staring at the window and thinking about the ocean. I'd bet money that multiple movies and shows have filmed here. I'd tell you which ones, but I can't seem to find any info. But Anthony Bourdain filmed here, and probably swore.

Why Roll? Because they bake their own rolls. Why Roaster? Because they serve roast beef sandwiches (on the rolls). It's also somewhat kinda almost close to Coney Island, which has a roller coaster, so I think that must've been part of their thinking. But even closer by, just a mile north on the same road, is the ancient Brooklyn restaurant institution Brennan & Carr, which I wrote about a few months ago. I have to think that R'N'R's decision to go into roast beef was inspired by Brennan & Carr's famous roast beef, but they do a much better job. My sandwich was damn good, much more tender and fresh than B&C's, and even better than some of the sandwiches I've had at Minneapolis' own roast beef institutions of Wally's and Maverick's. I got it with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, which were actually (I think) homemade, and just as delicious. And root beer!

Roll N Roaster is not the best restaurant in New York City. But it's a true and rare gem, and I'm almost sad I discovered it because now for the rest of my life I'm going to have to worry about whether or not it's still around. 5 years from now, I'll see a rollercoaster on TV, and suddenly my mind will snap to "Oh shit, I hope Roll N Roaster is still around!". But some day it won't be, so you better go there next time you're here. Maybe just, like, go to Momofuku first.