01-22-2022
Grace Cummings
Storm Queen

When you hear there's a new young female folk singer who has a voice like Bob Dylan, you'd probably not immediately assume that they mean Time Out Of Mind era Dylan. But that's what we've got with Grace Cummings—a deep baritone throaty growl that is one of the last things you'd expect to hear coming out of the singer from the cover photo, but after the initial shock is actually a pleasant and refreshing listen. There's even the occasional bit of old-school Bright Eyes vocal tantrums to be found later in the album, which isn't altogether unpleasant. Nice little album! My first fave of 2022 I think.

01-20-2022
odd eyes
原題

This is a (frustratingly common) example of a band that plays loud, tight, aggressive and weird—totally locked-in punk rock with a hint of mathy progness to keep us guessing—but throws the baby out with the bathwater by layering absolute nonsensical screaming over the top as vocals.

However, odd eyes has one saving grace, which is that they are Japanese. So the unhinged anti-rhythmic vocal assault actually becomes just interesting enough when it's in a language you're not used to hearing with this sort of thing. If I could make out some guy yelling, like, "Priority death! Diffuse reflection!" in English, then yeah, I'm out. But something about hearing these vocals in Japanese works for me enough to strap in and enjoy the absolute bombardment of the rest of the band.

01-18-2022
Air
Premiers Symptômes

For 24 years, I've been saying "one of these days I'll listen to Premiers Symptomes." And I'd never actually done it. It's as if I've been saving it for some occasion; like I somehow knew it would be great, and as soon as Air released enough bad albums, I would have it in my back pocket to go and enjoy for one last thrill.

Air has released plenty of bad albums since 1998, but for whatever reason I've never bothered to do it. Well this week I did it.

It was mostly a fluke, I was going through some cheap used CDs at a record store, and this was there and I just figured it was time. And after 24 years of anticipation: it's kind of a bust.

I know it's not actually an 'album,' just a singles collection. But I was surprised that this whole thing sounds almost like a sketch, or a series of demos, for what would become Moon Safari. Some similar melodies, plenty of similar instrumentation. But that's really all it is. Really there's not much reason to listen to it in 2022 when Moon Safari is still right there, and still rules in every way. At least I tried.

01-17-2022
Chime School
Chime School

A one-man indie-rock-jangle-pop project that is deeply (did I italicize that enough?) indebted to R.E.M., The La's, The Feelies, and any other band who's ever played reverbed arpeggios on a Rickenbacker. I don't like it that much; and yet the sounds it emits are so satisfying that I can't stop listening to it.

01-15-2022
Guided By Voices
Bee Thousand

The most Guided By Voices thing about Guided By Voices is that "I Am a Scientist" is the 18th of 20 tracks on their 7th album, and it basically signaled the start of their career.

01-13-2022
Fuck
The Band

Holy shit, Fuck put a new album out 3 years ago and I had no idea! Fuck! The band!

I was weirdly into this band back in the late 90s and early 00s; despite their ridiculous name and occasionally goofball song titles and lyrics, they were always way more thoughtful and subtle than you would expect—something like the slowcore of Low warped with the indie fuckery of Pavement. Their run of albums from 1997 to 2001, Pardon My French, Conduct, and Cupid's Cactus are prime, formative albums for me. And I swear they still hold up. Seriously solid albums.

What I always forget though is they released one or two after that, which were not nearly as solid.

And the same goes with The Band. Surprisingly, it still absolutely sounds like Fuck. It's been like 15 years, but they sound like it could be 1998 still, for better or worse. I was just hoping, at best, they could bring some old-man weariness to the thing. But not really, it's just some okay indie rock tunes. Which, when you look at what Genghis Tron did last year, coming back from a decade long absence with a completely fresh, adult outlook on their work (which had previously been, I'd say, completely batshit), is a bit of a disappointment. Ultimately, the best thing about the Fuck reunion is making me go back for the first time in years and listen to their old stuff.

01-13-2022
Voidsphere
To Overtake | To Overcome

Voidsphere is pure by-the-numbers atmospheric black metal, that does everything right but nothing quite interesting enough to steal my attention. Weird to say, but stuff like this has become background work music for me at this point. Just chill (by means of being extremely loud and unrelenting), meditative music to put on while focusing on tasks. Is it better than 2 dozen other black metal albums floating around Bandcamp? Probably not. But it's never annoying, it never becomes too harsh for its own good, and the cover is cool as shit.

And that's where I want to discuss the genius of Voidsphere as a pure brand exercise. This album is called To Overtake | To Overcome. Their previous 2020 release is called To Sense | To Perceive, and before that was To Exist | To Breathe, To Await | To Expect, and To Call | To Speak, all of which feature black and gray abstract images of galactic chaos spirals, each rendered with slightly different techniques, but nonetheless feeling like they were made by the same artist. Digging into the music itself, each one of these albums contain just two 20+ minute tracks. On this album, they are "The Void Overtakes," and "The Void Overcomes." The one before that, "The Void Senses," The Void Perceives." I'll leave you to guess the others.

This is the kind of shit that I will forever be a sucker for. They set up rules for themselves, and goddammit they're going to follow those rules. It's beautiful. They even re-use the same album description for every Bandcamp entry: "Voidsphere is worship of the void. It is that, and only that."

12-28-2021
Steve's Favorite Music of 2021
A List

What an exciting year! There's not one but two albums that stylize their title in ALL CAPS topping the list! Maybe if every artist would feel that confidently about their work, we'd find ourselves amidst a modern cultural renaissance!

But I'd like to take a moment of silence for the Pillow Queens' In Waiting. The album came out in 2020, but I only heard it in January of this year, so it never made last year's list, and the Music & Food Rules and Administration Committee won't allow me to put it on this year's. But wow, that thing mesmerized me for the first half of 2021. It's an amazing record. If it'd been released on January 1st, it would very easily be my #2, and might probably make me think real hard about making it #1.

Um, what else? Oh #4 I'm combining an album and an EP but I don't care and I am not accepting complaints at this time.

This is stupid, why am I writing all this? Here's the list(s):

Albums

  1. Turnstile - GLOW ON
  2. Low - HEY WHAT
  3. Katy Kirby - Cool Dry Place
  4. The Bug Club - Pure Particles / Launching Moondream One
  5. Cumbie - EP
  6. Black Nash - Black Nash
  7. Floating Points / Pharoah Sanders - Promises
  8. Bruiser Wolf - Dope Game Stupid
  9. Geese - Projector
  10. War on Drugs - I Don’t Live Here Anymore
  11. Shannon Lay - Geist
  12. Genghis Tron - Dream Weapon
  13. The Vernon Spring - A Plane Over Woods
  14. Poison Ruin - Poison Ruin
  15. Peter Talisman - Lord of the Harvest
  16. Arooj Aftab - Vulture Prince
  17. Brother Guy - The Wavey Session 3: In Our Jammies
  18. serpentwithfeet - DEACON
  19. Cassandra Jenkins - Overview on Phenomenal Nature
  20. NEW GRASS - Scordatura_Perforations
  21. Mare Cognitum - Solar Paroxysm
  22. The Weather Station - Ignorance
  23. Tems - If Orange Was A Place EP
  24. Riley Walker - Course and Fable
  25. Tarta Relena - Fiat Lux

Songs

  1. Katy Kirby - "Juniper"
  2. Japanese Breakfast - "Be Sweet"
  3. Katy Kirby - "Traffic!"
  4. Turnstile - "Holiday"
  5. Turnstile - "T.L.C."
  6. The Bug Club - "The Fixer"
  7. Bruiser Wolf - "Dope Game $tupid"
  8. Low - "Days Like These"
  9. Cassandra Jenkins - "Hard Drive"
  10. Mastodon - "The Beast"
  11. Johnny Football Hero - "Cap’n Oblivious (Deficit)"
  12. The Bug Club - "Launching Moondream One"
  13. serpentwithfeet - "Same Size Shoe"
  14. Obongjayar and Sarz - "Sweetness"
  15. Black Nash - "It's You"
  16. CUMBIE - "Inside"
  17. The Weather Station - "Tried to Tell You"
  18. snarls - "Fixed Gear"
  19. Tems - "Crazy Tings"
  20. WILD POWWERS - "Bone Throw"
12-25-2021
Cassandra Jenkins
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

Everyone kept saying "Hard Drive" was one of the best songs of this year, but whenever I heard it I couldn't stop thinking of this.

I was wrong. It's a wonderful song and this is a sneaky entry into my faves of the year.

12-20-2021
Aimee Mann
Queens of the Summer Hotel

Sometimes I start a post by saying "Here's a weird one!"

Well this one's a weird one(!) on two fronts. First, despite being an Aimee Mann album, this isn't exactly an "Aimee Mann album." But it is. But not. What it is is for the last few years, she's been writing songs for a stage musical based off of Girl, Interrupted. Over time it was becoming less of a musical and more of a standard stage play, so she just decided to record the songs on her own and release it as an album. And it's good! It works! And it's an interesting listen, because these songs really do read as being constructed for Broadway (or, rather, off-Broadway) versus your traditional Aimee Mann collection. In fact it even injects some interesting tweaks to what has become a somewhat formulaic body of work over the years. There's full string orchestration, interesting structural twists and turns, some dimensional rhyme schemes. It's a nice sit!

Which brings me to the second weird point here. I bought this album on Bandcamp, paid for it but couldn't download it immediately. The next day, it was gone. No longer on Bandcamp! A week later, it was back, and then gone again. At this point, it's somehow on my phone's Bandcamp app, but not on my desktop, and it's not available to actually download. I emailed Bandcamp about it and they claim the artist "violated our terms of use." No idea what that could've been. But I guess they didn't actually charge me. And I can still listen to the album on my phone, I guess?

Love this new digital streaming economy of ours.

12-14-2021
New Grass
Scordatura_Performations

Every year there's one of these, a late-arriving molotov cocktail thrown into the album-of-the-year scrum, showing up rude as shit after a lot of people have already published their top-however-manys and moved on. And this one seems to have come out of absolutely nowhere.

From what I can figure, this is a one-man project that this guy has been working on since 2012. At its core it's something that you could call post-hardcore, but underneath the howling vocals and helicopter drums, you can hear layers and layers of guitars and bass that absolutely sound like they've been fussed over for 9 years. It somehow jangles and crunches at the same time, slashes and arpeggis, transitions and breakdowns as knotty as a prog band. I'm not sure if there's a single melody to be found, and it certainly isn't going to turn the pit into a dance floor, Turnstile-style. But it's a deep, colorful listen that has a whole hell of a lot of energy, and thankfully I haven't published my list yet.

(Although it'll probably be something like, 8 or 9.)

01-20-2022
Red Hook TavernBrooklyn
Burger

Yet another of one of "NYC's best burgers".

It's pretty good! A little peppery, but good! Good flavor, not too juicy but not too dry, not overwhelmed with toppings, quality bun! No complaints! Keep it on the list!

01-20-2022
Elmhurst Famous PizzaQueens
Indo-Pak pizza

I was excited when I heard that one of my local pizza joints makes an "Indo-Pak" pizza—basically a heavy garlic-onion-jalepeno infused with some curry flavors. Makes sense given the dense South Asian population around the neighborhood, and I was extra excited considering how much I love Minneapolis' own Crescent Moon Football Pizza (which, granted, is Afghani and not Indian or Pakastani, but the general idea is the same).

The disappointment! Total bummer. Not necessarily in the concept of the pizza, but I think Elmhurst Famous Pizza maybe just kinda sucks. It felt like eating Pizza Hut or Dominoes, but not as carnally satisfying as either of those. Either way, not nearly as good as a Football Pizza. (Seriously. Are you in Minneapolis? Have you had a Football Pizza? Fucking do it.)

01-18-2022
Izakaya FukuQueens
Skirt steak, yakiudon, karaage, spicy bamboo shoots

Ever have one of those meals where everything just hits? Especially at a small-plate kind of place, usually you can sit back and rank everything, maybe 3 dishes are good, 1 is great, maybe there's a dud in the bunch. But how often have you ever sat down, ordered a whole table of of things and every item fully exceeds your expectations?

01-18-2022
H&H BagelsManhattan
Everything bagel

01-17-2022
Gao Ba DauQueens
Meatballs and vegetable rice

Gao Ba Dau, from what I can gather, does a Shanghai-specific version of what is essentially fast food. I walk by it fairly often when I'm in Flushing, and one this particular day, I saw the photos of meatballs on their menu, and it felt like a meatball day, so I popped in to give it a shot.

The meatballs were good! Like, for fast food—if I got them at a sit down place for twice the price, I would've been a little bummed. But I thought they were tasty, they came with some pickled radish (in a very fun but environmentally malignant stacking tray system!), and I was pretty well satisfied.

But the bigger takeaway from this place is the vegetable rice. Reading through some online reviews, it seems that "vegetable rice" is a classic Shanghai home-cooking kind of thing—something you whip up on a weekend night when you haven't had time to shop and are just trying to get rid of some veggies. But this rice was delicious! And strangely, what it reminded me of is the rice from when my mom would make chicken and rice as a kid—the kind where you basically empty some cream of mushroom soup into a pan of rice, but a quartered chicken on top, and bake it. I don't know what was actually in the rice, but it had that same savory salty pleasantness, and I could've just eaten a whole bowl of rice and radishes without even needing the meatballs.

Anyway they've got some other menu items that I want to try, so I'll probably be back at some point, even if the meatballs seem to be what people go there for. But also considering their mediocre online reviews and the fact that it almost always seems empty when I walk by, maybe I won't have much time. I might just have to find some other outlet for Shanghainese vegetable rice.

01-14-2022
Burger JointManhattan
Cheeseburger

Buckle up friends! I've been eating like a lout since the holidays, and I have a lot of catching up to do!

Burger Joint! I did it! I went there! This is a place that you'll (annoyingly) see on Buzzfeed lists and Tik Toks and Food Network specials about New York's "secret restaurants." Weird that it can be a secret even though Guy Fieri has probably been there, and it's been vertically chronicled by every sophomore NYU student who's ever owned a USB ring light. "If you're not ordering it with extra bacon you may as well unalive yourself!"

Anyway Anthony Bourdain also liked this place. So that's part of it too. As far as I can tell, he only liked 3 NYC restaurants: St. Anselm, Lhasa Fast Food (right down the block from me!), and Burger Joint. And while it's not secret secret, it is interestingly tucked away inside a hotel lobby, and there's no windows and no sign outside. Just a chalk sandwich board, but I count that as a sign and disqualify it from "secret" status.

Oh! The burger! You know what? It was real good. I've had a number of burgers that are on all the Best Burger lists in this town, and most of them are just totally average, mediocre burgers. The only one that's truly fulfilled the hype is Emily. But Burger Joint isn't fucking around! It's a hell of a lot better than some of those others, just not up to "Anthony Bourdain told me to eat here" standards.

And nothing against Anthony Bourdain, but Lhasa Fast Food is only like the 4th best Tibetan restaurant in this neighborhood.

01-13-2022
ColitaMinneapolis
Scallops, chicken tinga tostada, smoked lamb barbacoa

Minneapolis seems to have inherited a glut of high-end Mexican restaurants in the time that I've been away. One of which is Colita, which I managed to sneak into while I was back in town over the holidays. It's good! Not quite great? But good. Surprisingly, the chicken tinga was the best thing we had, which I wasn't expecting considering chicken tinga is usually one of the lamer, tamer items at any given taqueria.

My biggest takeaway from the night was just how unexpectedly bougie the Armatage neighborhood is becoming. As long as I've known that part of town, it's mostly been sleepy and middle-class, not aspiring to be much more than the last yawn of the city before you're in Richfield. But suddenly there's Colita making trouble on its corner, across the street is a new modern Turkish bakery and coffee shop, one other upscale-ish cafe, and a new pub type thing that I don't know much else about, but maybe it doubles as a book store? Meanwhile you've got Lola on the other side of the neighborhood, which is practically a historic restaurant at this point. Armatage! Who knew! Say goodbye to the last parcels of affordable real estate in South Minneapolis I guess.

12-27-2021
Steve's Favorite Food of 2021Queens
A List

What an exciting year! We got to sit inside restaurants again! And the food! It was okay! I didn't have any single meal that I can point at as being an obvious favorite, but I'd say the top 3 here could all vie for #1. I mostly ordered them this way because it felt ridiculous to put "chorizo and cinnamon roll" as my #1 meal of the year. But holy shit, have you ever eaten Colombian chorizo with a cinnamon roll? You should do it.

I should also mention there's a pizza place that should be on this list, but it turns out the owner is probably a militant white supremacist, so I'm going to go ahead and keep that off the list. Sucks though; heck of a slice.

Anyway, here ya go:

  1. Thai Diner (Manhattan) - Crab fried rice
  2. Seba Seba + Cafe Bene (Queens) - Chorizo & cinnamon roll
  3. Xilonen (Brooklyn) - Guacamole
  4. Sally's Apizza (New Haven) - Clam pizza
  5. Maison Pickle (Manhattan) - French dip
  6. Oreos (Grocery stores)- Apple Cider Donut Oreos
  7. Lety's Bakery (Queens) - Pistachio cheesecake
  8. Peter Luger (Brooklyn) - Steak
  9. Anthony & Son (Brooklyn) - Italian hoagie
  10. Fuskahouse (Queens) - Fuchka
  11. Antojitos Charly (Queens) - Al pastor tacos
  12. Ohio Pie Co. (Cleveland) - Pizza
  13. Khong Guan (Grocery stores) - Orange cream biscuits
  14. Leo's Latticini (Queens) - Italian hoagie
  15. SDSauce (Grocery stores) - Thai hot sauce
  16. Colita (Minneapolis) - Chicken tinga tostada
  17. Il Bambino (Queens) - Meatloaf panini
  18. Ramirez! (Brooklyn) - Tacos
  19. Bolivian Llama Party (Queens) - Pork chola sandwich
  20. Moonlight Grill (Queens) - Lamb chops
  21. Stand Alone Cheese (Queens) - Ham sandwich
  22. Roberta's (Brooklyn) - Split pea soup
  23. Sushi Fella (Queens) - Sushi
  24. La Espiga (Queens) - Barbacoa tacos
  25. Two Wheels (Manhattan) - Chicken wings
12-25-2021
Peter Luger Steak HouseBrooklyn
Steak

Everything you've heard about Peter Luger is true. The good and the bad. Every word of Pete Wells' mordacious zero-star review is true, every word coming from people defending it after the review is true, every boneheaded bit of praise from every Staten Island knucklehead you've ever had the misfortune of meeting is also, fortunately, true.

If you can imagine the things a "fancy" restaurant (and what is a 150 year old generationally beloved steak house charging 3-figures for a plate of meat supposed to be if not "fancy"?) is supposed to do, Pete Luger does it wrong. The lights are too bright; the complimentary bread and butter are too cold; the menu has clearly been photocopied dozens of times over, probably at the library copy machine down the block; the tables are jammed into the dining room to nearly guarantee you're going to be sitting next to a coat rack or a server station; the servers are all 70 years old and sweating in the same white shirts they've been wearing for the last 50; there's a good chance that while you dressed up in your nice shirt and blazer, there's a table full of guys in Under Armour polos and Titleist visors at the table behind you complaining about their wives.

If you told me I would pay over 300 dollars for the above restaurant experience, I could only conclude that I'd be absolutely furious at the end of the night.

And yet I left Peter Luger entirely pleased. Charmed even.

The short of it is that the food was actually good. Great? Great! I can't speak to the famous Pete Wells review about whether it's as good as it used to be, or if it's going downhill or whatever, but this steak truly melted like butter. I've never had a steak so tender. The twenty dollar wedge salad was damn near worth twenty dollars, and the creamed spinach was maybe even better than advertised. Towards the end, I really had one of those moments where I sopped up a plate full of steak juices and butter and for a quick moment went full metaphysical. I didn't care that the fluorescent light above our table was flickering the entire time.

I didn't leave furious. I left feeling like, for as stupid as this fucking place is and for how nobody should ever pay this much money for what we got, there's something honorable in how Peter Luger goes about its business. Forgive me for using this dumb phrase, but there's something real New York about this place. There's a thousand other restaurants in the city that bring in modern and adept business managers, marketing teams, designers and brand managers, and turn out an artful and subtle dining experience. Peter Luger clearly doesn't give a fuck. They're going to dry age their porterhouse like they've been doing for 150 years, the waiters are going to slice it for you at the table and tip the plate up so the juices pool at the bottom without ever smiling or explaining anything about the dining experience, and they're going to drop a couple dime-store chocolate coins on the table with the check. And you'll be chewing on the bone and loving how much you hate it and hating how much you love it. And then two assholes from Whitestone who've been waiting at the bar with 80 other assholes from Bayonne will come take your table and they'll talk to each other about how it's the only good restaurant left in the city because they don't pussy around and stick tiny dollops of tofu foam on oak planks, and what sucks is they're right.

12-24-2021
Eat GaiQueens
Thai roasted chicken

Eat Gai! Nice little place. It's Thai, and they have some standard type plates—boat noodles and larb and whatever else—but their primary specialty is simple roasted chicken. They marinate it for 2 days, give you a couple different sauces to dip it in, little bit of white rice. It's a nice change of pace! Although their other specialty is Hainanese chicken, at least a Thai version of Hainanese chicken (see: Eim Khao Mun Kai), which is just as simple and refreshing as the roast chicken. Can't go wrong!

(Here is where I'll mention that a small group of friends jokingly call me "the eat guy." It's a long story, don't worry about it. So the existence of Eat Gai right in my neighborhood is truly fate.)

12-20-2021
Seba SebaQueens
Chorizo and cinnamon roll and potato

Two separate threads need to come together here for this post to make any sense.

First is that, something like a year ago, I read about how some parts of the Midwest—particularly Nebraska?—are fond of eating cinnamon rolls with their chili. Or chili with their cinnamon rolls. I of course am very much from the Midwest, and I had never heard of this phenomenon. But I was intrigued? Disgusted, but intrigued.

Second, I earlier this year discovered, in my extremely Colombian neighborhood, that a popular Colombian snack (or light meal) is a simple and beautiful combination: chorizo and potato. Just a simple link of chorizo (South American style, not Mexican style, a rounder flavor, not as spicy), and a single red potato, salted and blanched. The combination is magical—the chorizo seems like it'll be too strong on its own, and then the potato steps in and circles the square. The humble chorizo and potato alone was one of my favorite food discoveries this year, until...

Chorizo and cinnamon roll. It was stupid and obvious: I wanted a cinnamon roll one morning, so I walked over to Cafe Bene, who offers one of the only pure, "correct" cinnamon rolls in the neighborhood. On my way home, I walked past Seba Seba and thought, "Yknow, some chorizo and potato sounds good right now too." And then it clicked, the Nebraska obsession with chili and cinnamon rolls, chorizo is kinda like chili in sausage form, why the fuck not? Who's gonna stop me?

My friends. Let me tell you. It was glorious.

12-20-2021
Anthony & SonBrooklyn
Italian hoagie

Great sandwich. Pleasant sandwich, chill sandwich. Not too big, not too assertive. This sandwich is an agreeable sandwich.

12-20-2021
Ohio Pie Co.Cleveland
Pizza

Sorry, but we're going to talk about "Ohio style pizza" now. I'll give you a minute to finish rolling your eyes before continuing.

So Ohio Pie Co. claims to make Ohio style pizza. My immediate reaction to this, of course, is to say "stop, please stop, there's no such thing, please stop, why aren't you stopping." But, thing is, I just went to another pizza place in Cleveland, and I'll be damned if that pizza didn't have a very similar (and at least somewhat unique) vibe.

It's something like Detroit style—which makes sense, Cleveland being a sort of Rust Belt cousin of Detroit. It's got that thicker, buttery crust, a robust sauce, and in the case of Ohio Pie Co., those small little cup-pepperonis. But aside from being circular triangle-cut instead of the classic Detroit rectangle, I'd say these Ohio pies are a little lighter, and not as caramelized. The crust is almost close to a focaccia, and the edges don't do as much work as a Detroit crust. Ultimately, it's got the same ideas as Detroit pizza, but doesn't quite have the disposition to go all the way.

Nonetheless, this Ohio Pie Co. was pretty dang good. Definitely better than Angelo's, the other Cleveland spot in this discussion. But is it Ohio Style? God I don't care.