Reviews, February 2014

Published  February 2014


antigravity_vol11_issue4_Page_31_Image_0005DALT WONK
You can choose to take playwright and poet Dalt Wonk’s latest, The Riddles of Existence, at face value and treat this oversized deck of cards as a literal game, where a short verse and illustration lends clues to each card’s depicted costume, to be paired with an index on the last card that includes  titles like “The Worm,” “The Atom Bomb,” or quite vaguely, “Metamorphosis.” “The Light Bulb,” for example, is depicted as a bearded fellow with a tightly wrapped torso, accompanying filament crown and the verse “Fashioned like an ornament / although intended for a use, / I valiantly combat the dark, / but shatter at the least excuse.” (Though  all the costumes aren’t so easily deciphered.) I find this collection works best with the “rules” dismissed entirely and treated as its own tarot deck, each card a hint at some invented mythology  or divination, like a prop out of a Borgese story. The release of The Riddles of Existence is well-timed for Mardi Gras season, as it could be the perfect post-parade party game, to be enjoyed by a well-juiced  crowd—like a poet’s charades—or even alone, where one can simply keep occupied with each expressive  image (and its equally spry verse) until carnival’s excesses wear off.  —Dan Fox




antigravity_vol11_issue4_Page_31_Image_0008CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS

Every few months I find myself in what I call the Black Lodge of Netflix, scrolling and scrolling to find something worthwhile. I decided to search “best of Netflix 2014” and the first thing that caught my eye was the bright artwork of Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus. I remember reading “Michael Cera – Sundance – South America – Mescaline” and knew I was in for something. Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus is the story of Jamie (Michael Cera) and his travels in Chile. He and his four Chilean friends (one of which is played by creator Sebastián Silva) plan to obtain some infamous San Pedro cactus, travel to the beach, and drink mescaline. His plans, however, face certain change when he accidentally adopts another traveler named Crystal Fairy. Crystal Fairy (Gabby Hoffman from GIRLS) is bound to shake things up for the boys––especially Jamie, whose character encapsulates the very specific vibes of a white- American hipster not quite capable of understanding the culture he’s immersed in. Possibly the greatest tease about the film is that the actors literally drank mescaline and experienced the mysterious hallucinogenic experience of the San Pedro cactus for the camera.  If it fits your vibe, this gem is on Netflix until further notice. ––Dominique LeJeune




antigravity_vol11_issue4_Page_30_Image_0002HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF

Those of us who have been around this city long enough are well aware of the many talents of Alynda Lee Segarra and her band Hurray for the Riff Raff. We have loved them from gestation onward, but it seems that  they’re about to hit the big time, releasing their major label debut,  Small Town Heroes, on NYC’s ATO Records. The record is consistent with their back catalog in terms of warmth and listenability, all the while playing with potent themes of violence, rape, murder, and despair. It’s less personal in some ways than  Segarra’s previous lyrical work, but she has always flown the banner for social justice, so her musings on those things feel true to the nature of the band. The instrumentation on HFTRR songs has never been overwhelming––a bright light is always made to focus on Segarra’s signature velvety gruff––but on this album, the sounds come forward in clear, isolated bursts, allowing the listener to soak in the feel and style of each track. Opener “Blue Ridge Mountain” starts the album off on an optimistic note, with bright, airy vocals and a backbone of banjo and handclaps. “Crash on the Highway” is all sparse, rattling percussion and warm acoustic twang––a lovesick ode to New Orleans. “The New SF Bay Blues” brings the tempo down to zero in on Segarra’s voice, full of intent and depth as she croons, “Well a woman’s heart is made of solid rock / And if you love her, she’ll give all she’s got / Oh and buddy, that can be an awful lot.” Both “The Body Electric” and “St. Roch Blues” examine the violence of today’s world and find themselves, like much of society, hopeless to find a solution. In the former, Segarra tells a tale of rape and murder (said to have been inspired by a highly-publicized gang rape in Delhi, India) as she rolls around the quandary “Tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand gonna do for a world that’s so sick and sad?” The latter hits closer to home, calling out the horrifying violence––especially among youths––that exists in our often-troubled home: “Bullets are flying from a young man’s hand / People are dying, no one understands.” With all that  heavy material, the perfect pacing of tracks like “End of the Line,” “No One Else,” and “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)” is essential. They work to bring some light to the dark and drag that layer of deep contemplation away for a few moments. The one-two punch of the titular and closing tracks left me eager for repeated listens. A lot of meat to dig into on this one and, as always, wrapped in such an approachable and familiar package. If this record gets the promotion and push it deserves, the rest of the world could finally be finding out what we in New Orleans have known all along. ––Erin Hall


antigravity_vol11_issue4_Page_30_Image_0003NENEH CHERRY
Slowly, surely, out of the harsh  American pop spotlight and amid many collaborations with artists over the years as diverse as Youssou N’Dour, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, and Matt Johnson of The The, Neneh  Cherry has been building a career as a musician of the world. Though she flirted with stardom from the start  with 1989’s Raw Like Sushi and with the single “7 Seconds” in the mid ’90s, she escaped being pigeonholed as strictly a hip-hop artist and sought to expand her horizons as a matriarch (that family affair continues in her band CirKus) and a manager of talent in need, all while still soaking up musical genres  ranging from punk to jazz. On Blank Project—billed as her first solo album in 17 years—Cherry teamed up with the British electropop duo RocketNumberNine to put her lyrics to spare, hard-hitting beats and bits of electronica. At times, the impression is that of 21st century beat poetry redefined, with some wonderful confluences of rhythm and words in “Weightless”––a perfect portrait of an artist’s  uncertainty––the rocking, strutting attitude of the title song, and the bleak beauty of “Across The Water.” In a few instances, the electronics are allowed more than a background presence: “Out Of The Black” seems to need a synthesizer break to counter the naiveté of Cherry’s and collaborator Robyn’s vocals; and “Dossier” sports a shaker shuffle that threatens to overcome the entire song. Though the results are uneven, Blank Project makes for fascinating listening. ––Leigh Checkman



A large, often-neglected chunk  of New Orleans’ hip-hop scene runs through rapper and emcee Slangston Hughes’ Uniquity gatherings, drawing its instrumental accompaniment from a group that was most recently known as Fo On The Flo. Formed late last year, the quartet known as MadFro has embarked on something different yet familiar: raps cradled in funk-rock heavy music made by Hughes and former  members of bands like Fo On The Flo, Purvis, AbPsych, and xDefinition. I.W.F.I. makes it a point  to come out swinging in the best tradition of throwdowns the world over, whether it dances outright with cultural metaphor in “Pert  Plus” or gets onomatopoeic with “…and Boom.” The music is made for swagger, the raps reinforce the feeling, and just when it starts to lean one-note, MadFro slows it down with the wistful, roughly loving “Middle Of December,” a compelling rhyme on love that left. I.W.F.I.’s purpose may outwardly seem like a hit-and-run, but the EP holds up on repeated listening due to Hughes’ virtuosity as a lyricist and the near-hypnotic instrumental quality of his voice, not to mention the rapport he and the other  members of MadFro have. MadFro is off to a good start. I can’t wait to see (and hear) where their funk rap takes them next. ––Leigh Checkman



Mahayla’s first release, 2003’s Powerlines, was a monumental album, especially by New Orleans’ standards. With Mahayla, Dave Fera immediately established himself as one of the vanguard songwriters of his adopted hometown. Tight, punchy pop songs with shades of Virginia-bred country and a uniquely strained-but-contained voice made songs like “I-10” and “Phone Call” instant radio classics— at least on stations flexible enough to play a self-produced CD -R with a shoddy insert and what Fera himself has referred to as a half- assed attempt. Since then, Fera has gone on to start other bands, most notably Big Blue Marble, which produced several albums of great musical complexity and emotional depth. For a minute there, it seemed  like Mahayla might be a footnote on Big Blue Marble’s legacy, a proto  version of future achievements. But what a difference a decade makes. And this time around, Fera isn’t cutting any corners. Lead off track “Bestie” is a definitive statement of revival, a sunshiny blast-off with the addition of Yanti Turang  on vocals; she provides a capable rival for Fera’s bittersweet voice. Electric… also finds tension in its pace, which starts as a sprint but slows to a crawl soon enough, with lush slow jams like “Sitting at the Table” and “Silence Equals Power,” proving that Fera and gang are not afraid to tackle a ballad amidst all the rock excitement. As I listen to Electricspageagesweetheart on vinyl, it’s impressive to see Mahayla reincarnated with vigor and purpose—and past mistakes capitalized on—as if some long, lingering unfinished business had finally been attended to. —Dan Fox


antigravity_vol11_issue4_Page_31_Image_0002SHARON  JONES & THE DAP-KINGS
It’s fun to hear groups and vocalists take chances sometimes; on Sharon Jones’ first full album since 2010’s I Learned The Hard Way, Jones and Daptone Records’ house musicians have the chutzpah to kick off a song set purporting to give its listeners what they want with “Retreat!”, a scorching warning to a lover not to mess with Jones. Give The People What They Want will likely propel Jones and the Dap-Kings into the music mainstream, what with great tunes like the Motown-influenced “Stranger To My Happiness,” the give-and-take Jones and her backing vocalists the Dapettes toss off in “People Don’t Get What They Deserve,” and “Slow Down, Love,” a prime example of Jones bringing the soul even when the tempo is low. Whether Give The People is a prime example of a Sharon Jones album, however, is debatable: at times, Jones and her fire seem to take a backseat to the Dap-Kings’ horns and the posturing of the Dapettes––over the years, the skills of the band have grown and Jones herself gets a little lost as a result. Give The People’s greatest role may be in getting listeners new to Jones to discover her previous recordings. But resting on her laurels does not become this Super Soul Sister. “Retreat!” almost makes it all worth it. Almost. ––Leigh Checkman


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