Category: Reviews

New Belle and Sebastian LP a New Ethereal Favorite

Belle and Sebastian 2010 Album Review

Originally published October 17, 2010   thehornrva.com

On Belle and Sebastian’s newest album, Write About Love, an array of intimate songs combine seamlessly into a great update to the quasi-60s style band from Scotland.

Write About Love, released five years after their last album, still holds the cult-favorite style we heard on the Juno soundtrack, but is a much more melancholy album than 2006′s The Life Pursuit. Although Write About Love includes many love songs, they all contain an emotional blend of sadness and optimism. The songs vary from upbeat to molasses-slow, but blend seamlessly together to create a trance-like album that is both easy to listen to and inspiring to hear.

Lead singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch teams up with a few guest vocalists like Stevie Jackson and Norah Jones (who’s jazzy-alto voice fits perfectly with Jackson’s on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”), while multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sarah Martin takes on a few tracks herself.

One of the great things about this band are the lyrics, that mean something, but are easy to follow. Their laid-back harmonies are reminiscent of The Smiths and Bob Dylan’s more mellow moments, which makes their music seem like it’s from another time, with a contemporary twist. Belle and Sebastian combine the themes of life, love, religion, and financial hardship with the simplistic view that everything is not as complicated as we make it. Write About Love has some very powerfully written songs, presented as a surrealist vision of placid, mellow ease.

Many of these songs are about being young, when things were simple. This music convinces us that things are much less complicated than we make them. Despite the undertone of gloom, the band gives a sense of perpetual optimism, and can make anybody feel a little better. The casual, dream-like melodies and succinct, powerful lyrics make Write About Love an enjoyable album experience.

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Lift Coffee Shop

Lift Coffee Shop Review

November 26, 2010  shaferbird.com

If you are looking for a cool, urban atmosphere with a futuristic vibe, Lift Coffee Shop on Broad Street is the place for you.

I have been rather surprised by my visit to Lift Coffee Shop. For one, it was not what I anticipated. As usual, I expect the atypical coffee shop to boast neutral colors, chill music and lots of comfy chairs.

Lift, however, is nothing like your usual coffee shop. Besides the similarities in menu items, such as actual coffee, and a few colorful window seats, Lift’s atmosphere is very different from other notable coffee shops in Richmond. Which is is not necessarily a bad thing.

In addition to a run-of-the-mill coffee bar, Lift also features a broad selection of brunch items, including, breakfast sandwiches, bagels and lox.

I quickly noted with much surprise, mimosas start at $2.95 for twelve ounces.

Something else that stuck out was that Lift sells beer and wine, and with their albeit limited selection, you can still design your own six-pack for $11.95.

To risk redundancy, Lift has a nice variety of cream cheeses, breakfast sandwiches, and a good array of options for the early to late morning bruncher. Prices are fairly reasonable, but I’m not impressed. I’m also not psyched by the variety of coffee beans they have.

If you’re just looking for a good latte, this won’t be a problem. Also, the staff was very nice, and was eager to suggest orders and accommodate to your preferences.

By no surprise, Lift’s theme is a very uplifting. It feels more peppy rather than jazzy and depressing like some of the other shops I’ve visited. The atmosphere puts you, literally, into the sky and the interior design is impressive.

Lots of cloud-shaped cutouts, blue and white, hanging across the walls with a few bright streaks of green take you into an energetic flight, fueled solely on caffeine, of course. What else could you expect from a shop that names its sizes “buzzed” (small), “wired” (medium), and “addicted” (large)?

Some hanging lights and even a little ladder down from the ceiling in the back of the kitchen add to the almost trippy aesthetic, that feels like a throwback children’s cartoon. Their corkboard extends across a large part of the wall and is full of listings for area events, especially local performing arts.

But don’t get me wrong; this coffee shop isn’t all cool colors and delicious food. There are a few drawbacks that might turn you off from a breakfast here. Number One, flies. If there is one thing I cannot stand near my food, especially when I’m paying for it, are fruit and houseflies.

Number Two, music. Generally, music helps people relax and enjoy life a little more, but that’s not how I felt in Lift. Somewhere I think I heard a little music playing somewhere close to the closet, but maybe I just imagined it. A quiet coffeehouse is no fun to chill out in.

In addition to those big turn offs, the paper rack, was not stocked or organized in any kind of cohesive manor, besides the suggestive labels on tags.

Also, there was barely a place to sit even when the place wasn’t at its peak. The only options were a half a dozen tables and a few stools, plus a smattering of seats at the bar, which is discouraging to the laptop user who does not feel like competing for space.

Their limited selection of pastries was kind of a bummer, and I found my chai to be too sugary for even my craving sweet tooth.

Despite a few gloomy drawbacks, I will still keep a special place for Lift in my heart. Its unorthodox, contemporary, design was very cool, and it transformed the atmosphere of just another Sunday afternoon into an optimistic and productive workday.

All in all, I think Lift is a fine coffee shop for a good Sunday brunch, when you’re done with recovering from that crazy Saturday night and you need to focus on the week ahead.

Urban Farmhouse Market and Cafe

Urban Farmhouse Market and Café

Liz Butterfield, October 2010

Urban Farmhouse Market and Café is not a coffee shop. It’s more of like a mix between Trader Joes and Corner Bakery, with an overstated emphasis on all organic, all natural, and locally grown foods.

Walking into the Farmhouse, as the owner Kathleen Richardson calls it, you first notice the wide, spacious floor that gives the feel of airy openness. It’s sophisticated look bodes well with the floor-to-ceiling windows and over a dozen small tables, few couches and lounge chairs, making the Farmhouse a great place to enjoy a small lunch on a great fall day. The patrons looked all between the ages of 25 and 50, most of them working on their own, doing crosswords or reading, each enjoying his own all-natural snack.

Urban Farmhouse Market and Café is known for it’s all natural attitude, and boasts a menu chock full of organic, locally grown foods. But what is great about the Farmhouse is that it doubles as both restaurant and market pantry, with products ranging from a variety of wines, to organic chips and candy, and much more. The back wall is stocked with wines and other products, and the whole front bar is filled with items, most if not all from local producers.

But although I was impressed by the Farmhouse’s great variety of products, I was not as impressed by the restaurant half of the shop. The pastry selection was limited, and all the menu items were pricy.  Many may argue that those prices are reasonable for such high-quality, organic food, but I just can’t bring myself to pay nearly $10 for a Turkey Havarti sandwich.  Even the ham & swiss croissant I ordered was expensive, costing me $3.95, and large black coffee is a whopping $1.95. We were not really impressed with any of what we ordered, mostly because it was pricy and bland. The caramel latte was too sweet, and the coffee was really uninteresting (even complete with vanilla soy milk and Stevia 100% natural zero calorie sweetener). Sizes come only in medium and large, but the porcelain mugs made them more attractive than they tasted. Most food comes from local producers and farmers, and the Farmhouse offers a menu full of organic and all natural foods. Milk comes from homestead creamery in Burnt Chimney, VA, and coffee is provided by Williamsburg Coffee & Tea.

But as the atmosphere is just as important as the food, we found Urban Farmhouse to be an excellent work environment, or just a good place to relax and read the paper. Located in the historic and classy Shockoe bottom, Urban Farmhouse is the perfect blend of contemporary décor and old architecture. Although it is a hike from campus, it is a great place to visit if you can make it. The giant floor-to-ceiling windows that double as doors in the front of the store are beautiful, and they make the floor seem much bigger than it is. The music is subtle but soothing, the walls are decorated by a few paintings, and the accent lighting brings out the gentle colors between the tan hardwood floors the smooth white walls. The floor holds over a dozen tables, with a mix between round and small, perfect from small groups to have lunch, or working student. The large open space for couches, tables and lounge chairs makes a good blend of relaxed and low key, but also spacious and open. The design is very classy, yet still relaxing, and holds an air of sophistication that is not pretentious.

And yet the best thing about this place is the market. Compared to similar products at Trader Joe’s, than this place has a great variety amount of natural food and selection of wine, a majority of them locally produced. I really liked how this shop is a combination of market pantry and restaurant; it gives you a good place to get an all-natural snack, and get a little something to take home too.

 

Check out theurbanfarmhouse.net for more details, or just stop by, 1217 E. Cary St, open Monday to Thursday 6:30-9, Friday 6:30-10, Saturday 7:30-10, Sunday 7:30-9.

Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream: A Review

Coffee Chronicles: Crossroads

By Elizabeth Butterfield and DeeVa Payne

Published October 2, 2010 Shaferbird.com

The feeling of community thrives at Crossroads, and as a staple to the VCU Monroe Park Campus, Crossroads is a place where people don’t come just for the delicious variety of food and decently priced coffee: they come for each other.

As you walk into Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream you are instantly overwhelmed by the vivid colors and sweet smells. From the vibrant yellow ceiling to the walls covered with cork-boards featuring local events, to the bright, multi-colored chalkboard menu, Crossroads is truly a different place. Unlike other coffee shops that stress the low-key, mellowed out feeling with lounge chairs and natural hues and décor, Crossroads gives a different feeling entirely. It features many small tables and basic wooden chairs, perfect for individuals working on their own in a comfortable setting, with free Wi-Fi of course.

The bright atmosphere isn’t soothing, but energetic. “It’s the home you wanted, but didn’t have. It’s our living room, really,” one customer says. Everything from the indie alternative duo Tegan and Sara to the epically orchestrated Star Wars theme can be heard from the Crossroads radio. “A great thing is that they play something for everybody,” said Sean, a long time regular to Crossroads.

If there is one thing that makes the store, it is the service you get from the staff. Employees Becca and Allen light heartedly joke while taking orders and making drinks. “We all hang out outside of work,” Becca said. It seems the crew is more of a family than a group of colleagues. Allen, like Becca, has worked at Crossroads for two years and admits he met his current roommates from behind the counter.

The atmosphere isn’t the only thing that draws people to Crossroads. The Crossroads menu is known for its plethora of vegetarian options, as well as a broad menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Crossroads also features Bev’s ice cream, an unlikely staple in most coffee shops. The desserts also include traditional baked goodies and pastries, although we weren’t crazy about the Coco-Cappuccino muffin we ordered (it was a tad on the dense side.)

But if you don’t go to Crossroads for their delicious food and treats, at least get a cup of coffee. At prices equal to, if not better than Starbucks, you really can’t ignore Crossroads’ drinks. Crossroads has over 11 different varieties of coffee, with one free refill of coffee, iced coffee or tea. Crossroads also sells Rostov’s coffee, another local maker. As chai tea lovers, we found the chai to be sweeter and creamier than the Starbucks version, but Crossroads one-ups Starbucks in that they have 5 varieties of chai, including some sugar-free varieties. The most interesting coffee drink was the Thai Coffee, a surprising combination of coffee, espresso and sweetened condensed milk. Jumbo packed with bold caffeine and sweet cream, the drink was in one word, powerful. But to most regular customers of Crossroads, it isn’t the menu that gets people to go here. “Even though the coffee’s good, and the food is good, people don’t come here for that,” said long time customer Sean. “They come here for the community.”

Crossroads is a big proponent of local bands and events, and there are cork-boards on every wall that feature non-profit and local events. They also have a “Give a book, take a book” shelf for community readers, and walls lined with local art. As Sean puts it, the customers range anywhere from working students to average locals, just looking for a spot where they can come to be themselves.

“Here you can actually talk to people without worrying about putting up a front. It’s all about making connections, and this place allows people to feel comfortable enough to express yourself the way you really are,” Sean said. First time customer, Hannah said that Crossroad’s atmosphere “reminds [her] of home in Baltimore” where her local coffee shop has a similar vibe. Hannah came to Crossroads with her friend Evana who learned of Crossroads through another friend. Evana frequents Crossroads for one her favorite drinks: Blenhein Ginger Ale. It comes in a bottle, which Evana likes because it’s recyclable, much like most of Crossroads products.

With menu options for every palate and addict, coupled with an unlikely atmosphere of color and connection, Crossroads Ice Cream and Coffee shop really does keep “oral tradition alive through social intercourse.”

Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and located at 26 N. Morris St. and 3600 Forest Hill Ave.