When Code Orange signed to Deathwish, I was very impressed to learn that the average age of its members was 18. I began obsessively watching their output due to how much their first EPs blew me away with a potently terse and irreverent sludge/metalcore sound and multiple vocalists. Following releases saw them get more atmospheric, cold, and—with their last album I Am King—just plain belligerent. All while securing a sort of tenure as go-to support for metal and hardcore icons. King’s belligerence made those support slots sensible but shifted Code Orange’s sound from an artsy behemoth toward the providence of meatheads. Their first LP, Love Is Love/Return To Dust’s haunting, opaque anxiety and illustrative quiet-loud dynamics haven’t returned but, for an album that incorporates a lot of industrial alienation and rage, Forever restores flowing dynamism and augmented scale. Code Orange seems intent on terrifying, and their electronics, effects, and other industrial features make this album’s terror the most profound and postmodern yet. Love had terror in suspense, King’s terror may have been an evocation of an especially suburban mosh pit, and Forever triumphs for emulation of a more universal terror: the pummelling inhuman mechanisms of modernity. While it is their best paced album yet (not a single song dilutes its barrage), the tracks featuring clean vocals from guitarist Reba Meyers elevate Forever beyond the level of just another great Code Orange maelstrom by reminding listeners that this is a seriously talented group of artists. —Ben Miotke
David Longstreth—the head button-pusher behind Dirty Projectors—recently used his Instagram account to speak out on the current state of indie music affairs, proclaiming that as a genre, it’s been sucking up a storm (to paraphrase) for quite some time now. Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold took a belly flop into the internet discourse with some comments of his own and provided an important timestamp to this that is easy to pick up and run with for the purpose of a review. Pecknold tied Dirty Projector’s 2009 release Bitte Orca to the last known pulse worth taking and if you pretend that the whole argument just described was a turd and you were then given the assignment of mentally locating the peanut of truth inside that turd with an imaginary toothpick, that would be it (but only in the specific case of Dirty Projectors, not indie music as a whole). Their latest since 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan is, at face value, an impressive collection of effects, bleeps, and bloops that, somewhere, at some point, contain the emotions of a breakup album. But it’s a far far cry from the salty newness—the actual human stuff—of Bitte Orca. Listening to the new album, it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever be given anything as moving and seemingly important as “Two Doves” from this band again. And maybe that’s the feeling of loss Longstreth’s rant originated from. —Kelly McClure
Riding a thin line between thrash metal and hardcore punk, Iron Reagan delivers an all out assault. Their third full-length, Crossover Ministry, is half an hour of intense crossover thrash that just doesn’t let up. Featuring members of Municipal Waste, Darkest Hour, and ANS, Iron Reagan is a rattling mixture of rapid pace guitar work, hard hitting rhythms, and energetic vocals. Anyone who has seen them at Siberia can attest to their power. Unsurprisingly, the group sticks close to their signature sound on this album. On “Dogsnotgods,” Tony Faresta somewhat humorously calls upon listeners to abandon their judging deities for the unconditional love of dogs. “Fuck the Neighbors” is an over-the-top party anthem, bringing to mind Municipal Waste numbers like “Born to Party.” The discordant piano intro to “Dead With My Friends” is chill-inducing, perfectly setting the tone for the tune’s heavy riffs. The album even features the group’s shortest song to date: a five-second piece entitled “Parents of Tomorrow.” One of the album’s welcome surprises is Andreas Sandberg’s guest vocals on “Megachurch,” a smooth contrast to Faresta’s intense shouting. Overall, Crossover Ministry is a stable collection of mosh-worthy tunes. Anyone who is seeking to headbang or jump into a circle pit is looking in the right place. —William Archambeault
CREATED IN THE IMAGE
Aside from a provincial affinity for all slow and low metal, New Orleans has had only a brief acquaintance with King Woman to this point: their phenomenal EP Doubt; a set limited to three songs by technical difficulties at Siberia in 2016; and another dark musical outlet for vocalist Kristina Esfandiari (Miserable) have been all that availed us to the power and craft of King Woman hitherto. But Created in the Image of Suffering is the most potent dose yet. Any research on King Woman leads one to Esfandiari’s formative experiences in a Charismatic Christian sect and wisely abbreviated time in Whirr, as well as the ever-apt description of King Woman as a phenomenal fusion of Black Sabbath and Mazzy Star. Created maintains all of this doom, sorrow, and ethereal heaviness but without any potential for dissatisfaction in brevity. Esfandiari’s melodic, vicious vocals immerse one in a purgatory—bound both to agony and beauty—articulating hope embattled by alienation and regression in a vocabulary learned from the spiritual proponents of both. This performance of the tension between a positive society and a monopolized supernatural is matched in instrumental doom almost certain to hook fans of Thou and True Widow, although with harshness and drones attenuated to a near-goth gloom recalling Siouxsie and the Banshees and making the band more approachable to non-metal fans. The near-grunge, cathartically primal romance of King Woman arrives as powerfully in recording as it does live and I can’t recommend Created enough to almost any underground music listener. I also recommend keeping an eye out for a possible tour stop in New Orleans near the end of March. —Ben Miotke
A CROW LOOKED AT ME
(P.W. ELVERUM & SUN)
Similar to the horrific beauty of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell—which was released in 2015 and dealt with the loss of his estranged mother—A Crow Looked At Me, which is Phil Elverum’s response to the tragic loss of his wife Geneviève Castrée to cancer in 2016, is an honor to be allowed to sit and listen to. Being brought in on feelings this fragile, sorrowful, and new feels like a reverent thing that we can’t possibly all be allowed to share in, and yet Elverum welcomes us for all aspects of it. “When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb,” he sings in the opening track, “Real Death,” and as an intro to the album, it sums the totality up pretty well. Every single person who lives will, at one time or another, experience the feelings beautifully sung on this album. While listening it’s important to stray away from “poor Phil,” and think something more along the lines of “what will I transfer my pain into when something like this happens to me?” —Kelly McClure
NOTHING FEELS NATURAL
Priests are a band so powerful that one listen seems to guarantee appreciation, but so anticapitalist that appreciators may not be aware of their many releases. Despite my diligence, their new full length came out of nowhere. Naturally, Priests remain perfect. The DC band is simultaneously the best possible outcome of Dischord’s Revolution Summer and my top recommendation to Alvvays and Le Tigre fans. Their dark, riotous, and hooky post-punk/garage pop still presents perhaps the best synthesis of the B-52s, the Fall, Mission of Burma, Bangles, Liliput/Kleenex, Gang of Four, Pere Ubu, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Blondie and retains their stylistic fluidity. This fluidity now brings more diverse instrumentation, near shoegaze dins, a surprisingly coherent string interlude, and even a leftfield funk closer recalling ESG and A Certain Ratio. Katie Alice Greer’s voice stays integral to the sound by galvanizing every song (even live) and, although resembling Debbie Harry’s and Chrissie Hynde’s, shouldn’t be considered anyone else’s. Timeless pop anthems and rhetorical cunning pressurize Greer’s far-left radicalism and sardonic post-modern perspective so intensely that Priests are volcanic, propelling Nothing Feels Natural’s ideas across an uncommonly wide range of listeners. This is sure to be one of my favorites in 2017 and I expect a similar take-away from their early March set at Mudlark! —Ben Miotke
Process—singer-songwriter Sampha Sisay’s debut album—is an aptly named journey through shedding the weight of grief that incurs after a family death. Sampha is known for his quiet collaborations with artists like Solange, Drake, and Kanye, but on his debut, the London-based artist wastes no time introducing his listeners to the deep sorrow behind sickness. On the first track, “Plastic 100°C” he belts “I was sleeping with my worries, I didn’t really know what that lump was,” over an eerie, spiraling beat. In 1998, Sisay lost his father to lung cancer, and in 2015, his mother also passed away from cancer. Allusions to his parents are persistent throughout, and Process navigates these tragic events of illness with incredible care. The record is impressively refined and strays from Sampha’s typical bedroom recording style. Tracks like “Kora Sings” and “Reverse Faults” sport a beautifully tangled patchwork of pianolaced rhythm that fully mirrors the unproduced, emotionally raw songs sprinkled across the album. Tracks like the vulnerable ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” provide listeners with clarity and a more tender, spiritual side of the highly-featured artist. While it can be considered a concept album, in its whole, Process is much more—an invaluable peek into the correspondence between Sampha’s heart and mind. —Maeve Holler
(SAINT ROCH RECORDINGS)
Saint Roch Recordings is a local label with a fledgling catalogue and an interesting focus on drone metal rather than the more provincial metal styles. Salem—by Oakland ambient drone outfit Sutekh Hexe—fits well with the label’s previous Wolves in the Throneroom release, for a shared black metal-derived noise evoking the pastoral in mechanical experimentation. This style naturally brings to mind Sunn O))) but Salem’s improvised feel, both in performance and recording, recalls more patient, melancholic passages by Wolf Eyes. These influences are so common that their mention might be too broad a stroke for Salem though. Situating the band with peers like psychedelic ambient post-metal Botanist and occult power ambient Trepaneringritualen seems necessary to distinguish them from other acts in the crowded niche of black metal noise. The album’s macabre, fatalistic atmospheres were recorded live from the outfit’s studio improvisation and it’s impressive that this process produced such a seamless, cavernous, enveloping doom. Crafting a sound without percussive rhythm is essential to the seamlessness of their traversals and it makes for an interesting callback to bygone European prog acts like Cluster and Wapassou. While fans of such acts’ arrangements might not be won over by the lack of almost any identifiable instrument, Sutekh Hexen captures the dire, impressionistic European dread without the ostentation that longer records in both prog and noise risk. Definitely recommended for those interested in black metal and ambient noise, and especially for collectors as Saint Roch has beautifully packaged LPs! —Ben Miotke
MANY WATERS: BATON ROUGE
FLOOD RELIEF 2017
In the wake of the 2016 Baton Rouge area flooding, Thou has teamed up with Thrill Jockey Records and a plethora of artists to benefit the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank with Many Waters: Baton Rouge Flood Relief 2017. With 33 tracks and over two hours of material, it’s hard not to find something to love, ranging from the absurdity of Christworm’s doom metal take on Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” to Treadle’s sparse acoustic melancholy. Sporting an abundance of Louisiana bands, this compilation could easily be re-worked to become Thou’s Guide to Underground Music in LA. Gland delivers an abrasive punk assault. Caddywhompus takes listeners on a thrilling instrumental math rock journey. Thou continues their history of performing eclectic covers, blaring through Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” complete with a mountain of feedback. Despite their two dramatically different musical approaches, metal group Solid Giant and electronic duo A Living Soundtrack both sculpt trance-inducing atmospheres to consume listeners. There’s a lot of diversity on here. These recordings prove that a large scale compilation of Louisiana’s under-recognized underground scene has been long overdue. Hopefully, this album will bring much needed funds to the food bank while also bringing some new attention to these great bands. —William Archambeault
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
DIR: RAOUL PECK
The price the white American paid for his ticket was to become white—and, in the main, nothing more than that, or, as he was to insist, nothing less. This incredibly limited not to say dimwitted ambition has choked many a human being to death here: and this, I contend, is because the white American has never accepted the real reasons for his journey. I know very well that my ancestors had no desire to come to this place: but neither did the ancestors of the people who became white and who require of my captivity a song. They require of me a song less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own. —James Baldwin The Price of the Ticket 1985
For a filmmaker to contain James Baldwin’s expansive vision within one meager hour and 35 short minutes is a formidable challenge. The Price of the Ticket, a complete anthology of Baldwin’s essays published between 1948 and 1985, clocks in at 690 pages, throughout which he meticulously explores, among other things, his Harlem upbringing, the crisis of race in America, the link between capitalism and sexuality, and the irredeemable sins of Western Civilization, all without a moment of excess or repetition. And this is to say nothing of his fiction. Shakespeare had such a mind, and James Joyce, too, but neither ever had the burden of translating the artist’s mandate to the political urgency of the 1960s.
Yet Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro does exactly that. The essential function of Baldwin’s work is to strip his audience of its illusions, to replace a fabricated system of reality with an uncomfortable but necessary truth. Peck recognizes the writer’s remedial properties, dispensing his words like medicine, and never was a cinematic cure quite so timely. You might leave the theater more with the feeling of having attended a seance than a documentary, for each carefully selected interview and image redirects Baldwin’s fierce gaze from his century onto ours.
Much of Peck’s success stems from the freedom which comes of favoring thematically open terrain over a linear narrative progression. His camera follows Baldwin’s ideas as they wind through time and space in their circular fashion, bringing an intense visual translation of this distinctive literary style onto the screen. One moment you see a clip from the silent film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in another it is Louisiana present day, and eerie afternoon sun is streaming through cypress trees and Spanish moss. The sounds and images never correspond as literally to the words as the way we are used to seeing in documentaries. They move according to their own rhythm, and there is a sense that Peck is telling an independent but parallel story, deepening the meaning of the text rather than illustrating it. A particularly chilling example comes towards the end of the film. Baldwin is talking about the disconnect between the Black reality and the white fantasy, and as he speaks we watch a group of white policemen beat Rodney King senseless. Peck sets these blows against a melancholy waltz, and after a few devastating minutes he cuts to the hopeful and innocent face of Audrey Hepburn as she is taken in the arms of Gary Cooper, who whisks her around the room to the same wistful tune.
Born in Haiti, and raised in the Congo from age eight (after his parents fled the Duvalier dictatorship), Peck bore witness to numerous political upheavals which have never been incorporated into the dominant global narrative. His 2001 biopic Lumumba, the story of the Congolese Independence leader whose vision of African freedom and prosperity so threatened the global order that his assassination was a collaborative effort among at least three Western governments, demonstrates the same commitment to elevating the larger cinematic political consciousness.
Peck sees his work as a possible corrective to the genre’s homogeneity. As he said in an interview with NPR: “as a Black person and as a third-world person I don’t have my own narrative in this medium, which is cinema. Since the discovery of cinema others have been the one telling the story… we don’t have our own visual history. So being a filmmaker for me was also trying to save part of our memory, part of our images, part of our stories. I saw it as one of the responsibilities to have to make sure that we are not totally dead in the picture.”
While Hollywood’s role in propagating American racial delusions is a recurring theme, the film is fundamentally a testament to the courage it takes to confront these fallacies, and the consequences in store for the Black individuals who do. I Am Not Your Negro takes for a narrative spine an unfinished manuscript that Baldwin began writing in 1978, in which he hoped to bring together the stories of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., that their struggle and violent ends might “reveal each other as they did in life.” These three were men of action, and not only did they dare to publicly corroborate Black reality, as James Baldwin did, but they were prepared to do something to change it.
In Baldwin’s eyes, the work of each man, in spite of any differences, emerged from the same vision. As he puts it in the film: “Malcolm picked up Martin’s burden and articulated it. Martin saw Malcolm’s vision from the mountaintop.” As Peck brings us to the moment of each of their deaths, we feel the loss acutely. We see what might have been had they lived long enough to bring about this shared vision, and we realize more keenly than before what a cold world it is without them.
There is no discernible difference between the swastika-waving white supremacists of the 60s and those of today, and state violence is just as brutal, as Peck reminds us in images of police barricades, of Ferguson, of the many Black children recently murdered by the police. I Am Not Your Negro reaffirms the notion of American progress, when it comes to race relations or anything else, is a dangerous self-deception, and we cannot afford to maintain the artifice.
Those who come to the film looking for concrete solutions will be disappointed. Baldwin does not offer a clear way out of this historical nightmare, the contours of which he so clearly defined for his generation and for ours. But as he says in the film, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” —Holly Devon