rank city: ramen edition

For the inaugural set of Rank City posts (in which I rank whatever I choose), I’ve decided to start with ramen. Columbus has a surprising amount of ramen restaurants; a new one even opened while I was working on these posts. If you never got on the David Chang train and to you, ramen costs .99 and tastes like MSG, you are depriving your tastes buds of an experience. While Columbus’ ramen may not rival Momofuku or the real deal in Japan, it’s worth checking out the varieties.

On to the fine print. I will rank the restaurants and their ramen on a 5 point scale for each of these categories:

  • Appetizer
  • Broth
  • Noodles
  • Protein
  • Environment/Service
  • Affordability

For a total high score of 30, plus any bonus points I want to throw in.

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Enjoy!

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the undocumented favorite albums of 2013

Better late than never, right?

Everyone has already put out their Best of 2013 lists, and while I’m not doing that exactly, I did want to mention a few albums that I didn’t write about in 2013.

In no particular order:

London Grammar – If You Wait 

The synth-pop extraordinaires. I was a little late to this album, but am totally in love with it. I unashamedly love pop music, but top forty pop is so lacking lately, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, “Wrecking Ball” is actually a really good pop song, but because the video is now seared into my brain, I just can’t vibe with it. Anyway, for the past few years I’ve found myself moving further toward the synth end of pop. London Grammar is a British trio made of Hannah Reid, Dot Major, and Dan Rothman. If we lived in England we could call them a trip hop group, but sadly we don’t and I don’t think anyone in America uses that term.

London Grammar creates this powerful ambient sound that grows incredibly with Hannah Reid’s raspy, brooding voice. The biggest thing this album has for me is balance. It has the slow build and quietness of the xx, but the strength and complexity of Reid’s voice lifts the whole album to another level. A few favorite tracks (though I love the whole album):

  • “Strong” showcases LG’s balancing act, especially as the lyrics mention the tensions of being caught in the middle.
  • Sights” is a perfect soundtrack for winter as Reid sings, “keeping your strength when it gets dark at night”.
  • “Wasting My Young Years” is the kind of song where you go, Damn, I’m glad no one wrote this about me.
  • “Metal and Dust” does a great job exhibiting this group’s instrumentation.

And finally, Hannah Reid crushing this cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone 

The country soulstress. I realize this isn’t a country album, strictly speaking, but it’s pretty country for me. That said, I am a big Valerie June fan. There are some parts where the album gets too country for me (“Tennessee Time”) but overall I really enjoy the whole thing. Dan Auerbach co-produced the record and co-wrote some of the songs. (Sidebar: are The Black Keys over? I wouldn’t mind if Dan Auerbach just keeps producing solid records.)

Valerie June does a great job at blending many genres: blues, folk, jazz, rock, it’s all in there. And it works. It’s gonna be hard to choose only a few tracks to highlight, but here we go:

  • “Workin’ Woman Blues” is the opening track and one of my favorites. It might be because June’s lyrics feel familiar (as a working woman), but it could also just be that I fucking love when those horns come in. (Sorry for swearing. Watching Weeds and The Wire simultaneously makes me feel like a badass combination drug dealer/gangster/self destructive cop who says fuck a lot.) The music video is kinda lame, in my opinion, but don’t fault the song.
  • “Somebody To Love” is a beautiful song to break your heart.
  • “You Can’t Be Told” shows off June’s gritty, deep-down-in-your-soul sound.
  • “Pushin’ Against A Stone” is the title track, and opens with this in-your-face guitar reverb.
  • “Shotgun” is a haunting ballad that features June slaying on slide guitar. That live version isn’t great quality, but I think it’s worth seeing her perform this one.

In the year of Yeezus, I say this album has real swagger.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

The indie rock band has proven its worth. Not only did I have fun listening to this album, I was impressed by it. Ezra Koenig showed us he could write lyrics with depth that were littered with spiritual questions. Plus he wrote that hilarious review of Drake. Some favorites:

  • “Everlasting Arms” – This song is deceptive. It’s packaged in upbeat, poppy sounds, but the subject matter is a serious consideration of serving a master (God) and that master’s benevolence. The chorus, “Hold me in your everlasting arms” is a pretty obvious play on the hymn “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”. Then there’s the line, “I hummed the Dies Irae as you played the Hallelujah”. The Dies Irae is a centuries old hymn about Judgment Day. Make of that what you will.
  • “Finger Back” is sort of a throwback track to me; it has that old VW sound a la “A-Punk”. And yet it still features the new contemplative Ezra Koenig as he recounts a story of an Orthodox girl who falls in love with a falafel shop employee, who we assume is not Orthodox. The Internet will suggest the employee is of Arab descent, and this song is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (because, you know, the first two stanzas are obviously about torture and fighting) buuuuuut I’m not signing my name on that yet.

Overall, really enjoyed this album and applaud this band’s growth.

Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

I was playing this album at my Halloween party and some of my friends were all, “This is weird, what is this.” So I was all, “IT’S JANELLE MONÁE, AND IT IS WEIRD AND AWESOME.” Janelle Monáe is a post-modern pop, R&B, soul sensation. My favorite track:

  • “Dance Apocalyptic” is a great example of why Monáe succeeds at being both weird and awesome. I often lament the fact that I live in a time when dancing = grinding and dance music = badly remixed pop songs. Even though the tempo is fast when compared to Motown, “Dance Apocalyptic” brings a Motown feel to the 21st Century, especially when Monáe sings, “Smash smash, bang bang / Don’t stop / Chalangalangalang”. The album version doesn’t have the apocalypse news break that the video features, but there’s an extra dose of weird for you.

My one complaint about this album is the interludes. Never been a big fan of them, and this album is already pretty long without adding three interludes. But overall, what a fun album.

Here’s hoping 2014 can be an even better year in music.

highlights: 2012 in favorites

Well, since everyone is putting out their “Best of 2012” lists, I decided to conjure up my own. But, since Best of really means favorite, there’s no reason to hide the truth under a Best of title. Which also means I don’t have to pick just one.

Coffee: We had more than one new coffee shop open in the Short North this year. I anticipated the opening of both One Line and Mission Coffee Co, and was pleased with my first taste of each. I worry about the sustainability of One Line in a city that’s still learning about coffee. They specialize in pour overs, don’t have much seating, and could be intimidating to new coffee drinkers. But it’s worth the wait for an excellent pour over. Over at Mission, they make great espresso drinks as well as French pressed coffee. I have to say I’m partial to Mission. The environment is more welcoming, the employees (who I think are also the co-owners?) are friendly, and they’re homies with the guys over at Snapstagram. Mission’s struggle will be losing traffic without a High Street-facing storefront. Now, if you voted in the Columbus Underground Best of 2012 survey, listen carefully: STAUF’S DOES NOT HAVE GOOD COFFEE. Don’t miss out on the really great coffee Columbus has to offer. (Shout out to Hans and Joelle manning the Hemisphere Coffee Cart. I haven’t been to the cart yet, but frequently buy whole beans from HCR.)

Eats: Three memorable restaurants that I tried for the first time this year were Till, Explorers Club, and Refectory. Technically, Till was new this year for everyone. It’s the revamped, re-done, but same owners replacement for Dragonfly. As a meat-eater, I’m glad it’s not strictly vegan anymore. They offer yummy, adventurous food, tasty cocktails, and a trustworthy selection of wine and beer. At Explorers Club, I had the most heavenly version of Eggs Benedict. Spicy food + runny eggs = all things good. The downfall of my trip to Explorers Club was that I couldn’t get a Bloody Mary during brunch. And finally, the Refectory, Columbus’ long-running classic French restaurant. The meal I ate there tops the charts in all categories. Melt-in-your-mouth scallops, the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen (excuse me, prawn), and perfect dessert. But, Parker and I were the youngest people there by twenty years.

Booze: In the fourth quarter of 2012, I toured Middle West Spirits (right here in Columbus) and Southern Tier Brewery (Smalltown, NY). Okay, the tour of MWS was a little long. Brady was all, “I don’t have anything to do tonight so I’m gonna keep you here awhile” and he meant it. But, the more I heard about this small business, the more I wanted to support their products. Well worth your money and time. Southern Tier was my third brewery tour and I really enjoyed it. Maybe because they gave us so much beer to sample. And broke out some Pumpking from the secret stash for us. One main critique is that they don’t have a true restaurant at the brewery, and food is limited as it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.

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Travel: If you read my 2012: here’s hoping post, you’ll be happy to know I made it to all my National Parks! Acadia in July and Zion and Bryce in November. Acadia was amazing; I’d never hiked a mountain that’s right on the ocean, so it was a completely new experience. I didn’t get to see enough of Zion and definitely want to return to do the Narrows. Bryce was incredible. Parker and I stood looking out across the canyon saying, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could go in it?” Turns out, we could! Hiking down into the canyon will be one of my most memorable experiences. I also made my way around Ohio: I received a proper tour of Athens courtesy of Parker, spent some time in downtown Cleveland (which reminded me why I love Columbus), and hiked Hocking Hills more than once.

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Music: I’m working on a separate post just for the lady singers, so I’ll highlight some man singers here. My favorites are on opposite poles from each other: folk bands to electronic/impossible to categorize. Lord Huron. They’re like a beachy Fleet Foxes. Speaking of which, Poor Moon. Saw them open for Lost in the Trees this spring and looooved them. Actually preferred their sound live to listening to their EPs. Alt-J. It’s a struggle to figure what the hell he’s saying, but turns out his lyrics actually make some sense. Really unusual sound. The Lumineers. I listened to them on World Cafe: Next back in January and eagerly awaited their spring release. Though I wasn’t super impressed by their live performance this summer (they aren’t made for a big stage), still loved the album. Kishi Bashi. That guy is nuts. I thought about going to see him open for another group at the Wex, and regret not doing it. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. There are songs on their album that I always skip, but then I listen to Same Love on repeat. (Check out Mary Lambert‘s poetry.)

Concerts: Feist at the Wex. Well done, Leslie, for making everyone get out of their seats. Punch Brothers at the Beechland Ballroom. Always worth a 5 hour round trip drive. Lost in the Trees with openers Poor Moon at the Wex. For me, LITT live transcends music and becomes performance art. Tanlines, Maps and Atlases, Atlas Genius, The Lumineers, Ben Kweller, and Metric at Summerfest at The LC. Emily Haines is amazing live.Feist

Reads: Separate post to follow on the books I read in 2012. It was a weird year for reading.

Babies: Yo, there were a lot of babies born in 2012. And while most of them are cute, Harper J wins the All-Around for Baby of 2012. I could be biased.IMG_3079

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Congrats to all my friends who got engaged, married, or had a kid this year. Congrats to all of us who didn’t. I still got my KitchenAid mixer.

Thanks for a good year Columbus. You owed me one.