Khalid’s American Teen is a View to the Future

Plenty of musicians can write about the experience of being a teenager, usually long after the time they were one. It’s one of those few experiences that’s almost certainly better examined in hindsight. Almost. That was the case until the release of American Teen by Khalid.

Born Khalid Robinson, the El Paso, TX, artist recently came to prominence after his track Location was in one of Kylie Jenner’s Snapchats. It’s a bit of good luck for the 19-year old artist who manages to capture the feeling of exactly what it’s like to be a teenager in the 2010’s, but with the self-awareness and maturity that artists twice his age still struggle to possess. The album’s self-titled opening track begins with the sound of an alarm going off, blending into a pastiche of airy 80’s synths. Khalid’s easy croon sings, “So wake me up in the spring / While I’m high off my American Dream / And we don’t always say what we mean / It’s the lie of an American teen”. It’s instantly-relatable moments like these that separate Khalid from the pack of forward-thinking R&B. The slow burn of “Young, Dumb & Broke” – about, yes, being just that, as well as ruminating on not wanting to commit but still having ‘love to give’.

Then there’s “Location”, a blippy slow-burn ballad that has certainly earned the attention it’s getting – here, Khalid humorously states that “I don’t want fall in love off of subtweets, so let’s get personal, I’ve got a lot of spots we can go,” It’s the latest in the line of communication-as-an-obstacle songs, a sort of an update on Hanging On a Telephone for the data plan era. For being his first album, Khalid’s debut is an assured piece of work. Coaster, with its ghostly choruses and mournful vocal – “So I’ll be coasting, roller-coasting / Through my emotion / I will be coasting, roller-coasting / I’m hoping that you’ll come back to me,” illustrates beautifully what it feels like to be young and in love that doesn’t exactly feel balanced. It’s not long after that his optimism in the face of uncertainty on Hopeless, an up-tempo jam where he’ll remain “hopeless, hopelessly romantic”.

On American Teen, Khalid has crafted a debut that negotiates the distance between the ambitiousness of someone with a bright future coupled with the actuality of being young and maybe not having all of the resources just quite yet. Khalid’s desire to ascend to the next level is coming to the surface, but as the phrase he uses says, being “young, dumb and broke” just a little longer might suit him (and the rest of us) until he’s ready.

This review originally posted on Vinylmnky. Check out their great vinyl subscription service and site!

L.A. Takedown’s II a Journey Worth Taking

You don’t need to have been to Los Angeles to best experience L.A. Takedown’s latest album, II. It’s an album that’s evocative of a time and place, though it’s one that may or may not exist. The fact that it’s almost entirely instrumental (save for some lightly sprinkled vocoder in its final moments) doesn’t provide any concrete evidence. It’s an album length mystery, and one that’s worth the patience of letting it unfold.

Led by Los Angeles-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron M. Olson, the seven-piece band’s follow-up to L.A. Takedown’s 2015 self-titled debut is the first release featuring the full band – keyboardists Ryan Adlaf and Jonah Olson, guitarists Miles Wintner and Stephen Heath drummer Mose Wintner, and bassist Jessica Espeleta. ‘Composer’ is not a loose term in this case – Olson studied classical music history and theory at San Francisco State.

Full of perfectly slick guitars, heavy beds of synths and keys and crisp drums, II feels less like the work of a rock band, and more like the score to a night out in one of the west coast’s foremost cities: a place where it seems permanently dusky and all the signs are neon. Effortless syncopation of guitars on tracks like “L.A. Blue” and “City of Glass” have the warmth of a Xanax buzz. Everything feels a little out of focus, the kisses are a little softer, and sleep feels imminent the minute the eye settles behind the eyelid. (It probably doesn’t hurt that the album cover is an illustration of a similar-looking pill between two fingers.)

Songs like “Night Skiing” feel like hero’s journeys – driving percussion and synths give away to the album’s loosest shredding eventually building to a climax that would get a nod of respect from the most ardent Van Halen devotees. Each song has a way of feeling like a mini symphony that fits perfectly in the whole of the album – the most 80’s dry-drum sound of “Bad Night at Black Beach” is even worthy of its place, even if it doesn’t feel much more like an extended interlude.

What L.A. Takedown have done with II is create a record that forces a listener to really feel. It’s imaginative, ambitious and in a weird way, a little ponderous. It feels like a place you can visit, look around and feel the breeze. Is it Los Angeles? Is it somewhere in the desert, or the sound of driving down an empty highway with the top down? That’s not entirely clear, and maybe it’s best not to think about it. It will take you somewhere new each time.

II is out May 12 on Ribbon Music. Listen to “Night Skiing” below.

Restaurant List – 2017

Hot Dogs/Sausage

Portillo’s– The standard bearer for Chicago style eats since 1963 – Hot dogs and Italian beef are specialties. If you haven’t before, at least once in your life, try a Chicago-style hot dog: yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onions, red tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, a celery salt and sport peppers. Remember, NO KETCHUP, which can be controversial in these parts.

Hot G Dog – For all intents and purposes, the spiritual successor to Hot Doug’s, run by two of the restaurants former chefs. Similar dogs in taste and style to Hot Doug’s, and they are open seven days a week and serve Duck Fat Fries on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sidenote: Wrigley Field opened a Hot Doug’s in the bleachers, so if you are sitting therethis year, try it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Pizza

Piece – Great pizza, creative toppings, and I hear the beer selection is good? I. I like the pizza. This is not deep dish, but probably the best non deep-dish in the city. If I’m going out for pizza in the city, nine times out of ten I’m going here. Go early, gets SUPER packed on weekends.

Deep Dish Pizza: Literally anything except Giordanos, which I find to be low-level garbage. Lou Malnati’s, Pizzeria Uno/Due, Gino’s East are acceptable, but Peaquods is a personal favorite.

Spacca Napoli – Neopolitan Pizza. It is great, awesome vibe too. 

Logan Square (My neighborhood)

Longman and Eagle – Think of this as a modern take on a neighborhood tavern. Cutting edge menu – there’s elevated takes on burgers, strip steak, gnocchi and that’s more of the standard stuff. I love their brunch and the bone marrow – yes, bone marrow – was so rich and delicious I still think about it and I had it once two years ago.

Yusho – Modern Japanese food, not sushi. A shared plates/entrees place. I had the skin trio, chicken wings, steam buns and we split Ramen. Well worth it and to sample all the different things. Lots of flavor, great environment.

Lula Cafe – Café in Logan Square with a crazy good menu, all locally sourced, blah blah. My favorite thing to get is the Lula ’99 turkey sandwich – avocado, chile aioli, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, and onion with bacon and cheddar cheese.

Fat Rice – This is Macau cusine, which is a little bit Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese. One of the more interesting meals of my life and it’s in a really intimate space. The menu is pretty crazy so I suggest looking it up and trying it. I had potstickers, piri piri chicken and some other crazy appetizer there. They tell you to get the “Fat Rice” when you’re there. That’s what I’ll get next time. 

Reno – Great for brunch for for lunch or dinner. I love the bagel sandwiches and Chilaquiles, here – at lunch they have great sandwiches and at night the pasta and pizza are really fabulous.

Parts and Labor – Bar/restaurant that has one of my favorite burgers in the city. I love the vibe here – they play movies on big screens here and the music pretty good. Had my 30th birthday party here.

Boiler Room – Owned by the same people that own Parts and Labor. Pizza place. People get the ‘PB&J special” – PBR, shot of Jameson and a piece of pizza.

Stephanie Izard Restaurants

Stephanie Izard won Top Chef Season 4. She’s since opened three restaurants in the West Loop.

Girl and the Goat – This is a shared plates restaurant and EXTREMELY hard to get into. Lots of crazy concoction. Plan ahead. Food was really good, very different. I had something called “Pig Face” last time I went – yes, that was actual pig face.

Little Goat – This is directly across the street, it’s Izard’s take on a diner. Great food, they also serve breakfast all day. Menu is really fun and diverse and good for even picky eaters. Easier to get into but you can call ahead for a rest I think. Favorite of mine and Marge – we recommend tempura mashed potatoes and the pork belly pancake.

Duck Duck Goat – Izard’s take on Chinese food. Went here for my birthday recently. Another shared foods place, served family style. Great stuff – both things you wouldn’t try normally – forbidden goat rice – black rice with goat meat with pickled quail eggs and more traditional meat and noodle options. Really, really amazing.

Rick Bayless Restaurants

Rick Bayless has been in Chicago since the late 80’s doing his spin on Mexican foods.

Frontera Grill – Standard spin on Mexican food – it’s really good, sort of pricey, so plan an ight out if you’re going here. Really worth it. Reserve a table though
 
XOCO – The Street food restaurant adjacent to it. The tortas are amazing.

Topolobampo – Definintely the most pricy and challenging of the three River North restaurants. Stuff that’s off the beaten path menu-wise, I had some ceviche here that was really great.

Restaurant Row

The Publican – Amazing, amazing, amazing meat-centric restaurant. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like a spin on classic American foods that makes them modern but not unfamiliar to the palette. I have been here a few times and the meals have been some of the best of my life. 
 
Publican Quality Meats – Publican’s sandwich shop. Think it’s a daytime-early evening spot. Closes at six usually. Great sandwiches.

Au Cheval – Incredible burgers, always try it with an egg on it. See also: Small Cheval in Bucktown. Easier to get into, relatively same food.

BBQ

Smoque – A Tina recommendation. As far as I’m concerned, the irrefutable king of Chicagoland BBQ. This is what we had in the office for Tina’s 20th Anniversary. Just amazing stuff.

Lillie’s Q – Barbecue in Wicker Park. Lots of sauces. I had Kool-Aid pickles last time I was there, which were kind of wild.

Wicker Park
 
Schwa – This maybe was the best meal of my life. This is a molecular gastronomy restaurant, where the food is like art and is designed to taste different than it looks. I don’t know how to explain this place other than you get the tasting menu. They blare loud hip-hop music and there are no servers, just chefs. It’s an experience and it will impact your wallet. Only way to get in is by reservation on the phone if they decide to pick up. Worth your time and money and go in with an open mind. One of the more unique things I’ve ever done in my life. Just Google it to see what it’s like.

Antique Taco – If Pinterest was a taco place. Menu can be kind of cutesy – I recommend getting two different types of tacos if you’re going with someone and splitting them, as they come two a plate.

Big Star – One of Wicker Park’s standard-bearers for tacos. Great, cheap tacos, apparently the margaritas are great. I recommend the pork belly taco.

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate – Killer brunch, even better hot chocolate. Just go. If you’re going for brunch, get there as they open or make a reservation, it will fill up FAST.

Other notables

Kuma’s Corner – Burgers named after metal bands. Don’t let this scare you. It’s legit and voted one of the best burgers in the city. Kuma’s Too serves the same menu. Opened one in Schaumburg in the last year and a half so you don’t have to go into the city if you’re not up to it. Worth it at least once!
 
Demera Ethiopian Restaurant – Research Ethiopian food. It’s fantastic. Go in with an open mind and tastebuds.

Big Jones – Southern restaurant in Andersonville. Loved this place. As Eater 38 says, “Chicago’s best Southern restaurant culls dishes that revive and update centuries-old recipes with unique ingredients and documentation on the menu, making it not only delicious but a learning experience to boot”. That’s accurate.

Parachute – Amazing Korean restaurant brought to you by Beverly Kim of Top Chef fame. I tried the sesame leaves, baked potato Bing bread with bacon, scallion and sour cream butter then cured hiramasa “bulgogi” with spruce, Paris mushroom and buckwheat, and dolsot bi bim bap with BBQ tripe, nettles, soft egg and gochujang. Sounds exotic, it sort of is, but it tastes SO good.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken – Playful fried chicken place. Nothing fancy. Go try it. The Honey Butter is as good as they say it is.

Japandroids Return with the Right Album at the Right Time

It’s a weird feeling to be in transition: constantly thinking about where to go next, the thrill of excitement just out of reach, and possibility feeling so endless that it’s overwhelming. What do you do?

With Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids first album in almost five years, that feeling of being flux is everywhere – literally. Song titles contain words like “near” “to” and one song is simply named “North East South West”. It’s a record about growing up, moving on, and exploding the tiny moments in life that feel so much bigger in retrospect than they do in the moment.

Both 2009’s Post-Nothing and 2012’s Celebration Rock faced some criticism for sounding somewhat piecemeal in their sequencing. The latest album represents the first time the band feels like they’ve done something deliberate – and it works. As two guys from Vancouver bashing out some of the most euphoric jams that could be made two people at a time. By slowing down and looking a little more inward, they have made something that really feels like an album, as they’ve detailed in notes for the release. “Side A and side B each follow their own loose narrative. Taken together as one, they form an even looser narrative, with the final song on side B acting as an epilogue.” While they’ve succeeded, they may have done it at the cost of throwing off any fans who were expecting Celebration Rock II.

The production is larger and the songs have a sense of space not found on previous Japandroids records. Make no mistake, this record still has plenty of the fiery romanticism and the hooks that made the band so irresistible, but there is simple separation in the sounds to take that all in. There’s prominent synthesizers – the warped 7-minute “Arc of Bar” is a great example– and then another sound not found on previous Japandroids releases – acoustic guitar strums on the gorgeous “True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will”. Just these small touches alone show that the band is taking small steps to distance themselves the bash-and-blaze chaos of the first two albums.

Like every Japandroids record, this one feels kind of like a small miracle. They are a band who feels like they’re just on the verge of disappearing at any time. They make some of the most immediate and visceral sounding rock and roll and really seem to take that role seriously. Perhaps that’s why they take long gaps between albums with nary a hint of when they’ll resurface.

In a sense, Near to the Wild Heart of Life reminds us of some truths that we all eventually face. Everything is constantly changing. Right now is the youngest you’ll ever be. Eventually, we have to all take chances if we want evolve. Sure, the album is not perfect, and some experiments don’t work. That sounds like life. It won’t bring us back to the time where we felt infinite. But when it’s over, it’s a small reminder to keep going in hope that next day will be better than the last. That in itself is a victory – at this moment in time, that is exactly what we need.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is due out January 27, 2017 on Anti- Records, with a special early release for vinyl on January 24.

The Rest of the Best of 2016

Favorite Moments of 2016

1. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Being in Wrigleyville during the series. Being at the parade. Pure emotion. Being with Jordan when they won. Eamus Catuli switching to all zeroes. Not quite giving up hope when it seemed all but over MULTIPLE times. Continuing to ride that wave.

2. Meeting Bruce Springsteen the day before my birthday. Also, his show at United Center on August 28. Magic in the night.

3. The Hold Steady: Reunite with Franz Nicolay, play a bunch of really awesome shows behind my favorite album of all time. The Frenchkiss reissues of AKM and Sep Sunday. Lifter Puller twice in one year, including the opportunity to stand on stage at Red Rocks. Denver meh, Chicago good and New York was wonderful but I could have done without the concussion. Great openers: Titus Andronicus, Laura Stevenson (so nice!) and Lifter Puller. Nights go on forever and guitars are cool.

4. Nashville visits, March-August (Just a few: recording in the Third Man Booth, all the food, Infinity Cat House. City Winery, meeting Daddy Issues and Diarrhea Planet, and pretty much everyone that made my time there awesome.)

5. More travel: Austin, TX trip with my Mom. Hanging in Boston and candlepin bowling with some of my best people and Vineyard Youth in Pawtucket, RI. Additionally, anyone who came to visit me and had a good time.

6. Health and wellness: PRing my third 5K on the October 30 Hot Chocolate Run. Exercising regularly for the first time in my life. Reading the most books this year than I’ve read in a decade.

7. Personal: Getting the opportunity to write for Men’s Journal and interviewing Dolph Ziggler, Chad Gable, Hot Doug and Andrew Wyslotsky.

My team beat his in the World Series. I ain’t sorry.


8. Wrestling: American Alpha winning the NXT and WWE Smackdown Tag Team titles in the same year (all of the great wrestling this year, seriously.) Owens and Zayn at Payback in a total mindblower. Zayn and Nakamura at Takeover Dallas. DIY and Revival at Takeover Toronto. Meeting Jerry Lawler randomly in Memphis inside his restaurant and being able to tell him we shared a birthday.

9. Food: Qui, Parachute, Rolf and Daughters, Husk, Mitchell’s Delicatessen, Maketto, Pinewood Social, Row 34, Mission Chinese and a ton I’m missing.

10. Trash Pandas releases two EP’s and having involvement in them. They make me laugh and proud I did a thing that’s out in the world.

Shows

I saw 37 shows this year. Take a look.

Everything I Listened To

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out.

Favorite Songs of 2016 (And Other Stuff)

My Top Songs of 2016 playlist, favorite 2015 discovery of 2016 and Honorable Mention albums. Heads up, the song list is 80 songs long, so hit shuffle and enjoy!

Also, “Home” by Big Sky Hunters

Favorite Non-2015 Discovery:

Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker

Honorable Mention Albums:

Carolina Ghost by Caleb Caudle
If You See Me, Say Yes by Flock of Dimes
A Seat at the Table by Solange
Robert Ellis by Robert Ellis
Southern Family curated by Dave Cobb