REVIEWS

Published  April 2018


A LIVING SOUNDTRACK
TEZUKAYAMA 帝塚山
(STRANGE DAISY)

After an incredible sophomore release in 2011, a trip to Japan, a life-threatening bus ride, a couple of kids, glow-in-the-dark neon glasses, and rejuvenating reflection, A Living Soundtrack is back with Tezukayama. ALS has always allowed their releases to tell stories that reflect the band’s internal relationship. Much like how their previous release, How To Grow A City, represented their transformation at that time after losing a pivotal member, Tezukayama does the same thing, showing the trauma, tension, and compassion the members share for each other. On “Summerdom サマードーム,” Matt Aguiluz’s variety of synth and textural complexities depict a polarizing narrative that ultimately grants Marshall Flaig space to shine through the songs, pounding and shuffling on the drums through layers of melodies. “Wijarn Pongpanich”—named for the surgeon who saved Aguiluz’s life after the bus accident—is a dreamlike representation of his mental purgatory. It shifts dynamically between pulsing waltzes and cathartic downbeats, ending with a triumphant trumpet, signaling a victorious recovery. “Haru 春” and “Kumano Kodo 熊野古道” are centerpieces reflecting the growth of ALS. The nuances of Flaig’s beats highlight his knack for fusing acoustic and electronic drums. His presence is also significantly louder than on past releases. Presumptuously, this could be a declaration from Flaig, wanting listeners to hear his side of the story. Aguiluz has proven himself to be one of the most talented programmers and producers in New Orleans, and Tezukayama resonates deeply as the musical interpretation of memories forever burned into his mind. Robert Landry

ANDREW W.K.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
(RED MUSIC)

You’re Not Alone is Andrew W.K.’s most empowering body of work to date. In the nine years since his last American studio album, the singer and keyboardist has ventured beyond the world of music. He’s made a name for himself as everything from social media persona to Cartoon Network show host to motivational public speaker. Taking inspiration from that last incarnation, this release features a few spoken word cuts. “In Your Darkest Moments” finds W.K. sermonizing about learning to love life, even during the bad times. Similarly, most of the album’s lyrics focus on overcoming barriers. “Music is Worth Living For” booms with W.K.’s signature wall of sound: a mixture of hard rock guitar and infectious synths gleaming with ‘80s big rock admiration. “I Don’t Know Anything” is an upbeat punk-tinged tune that recalls the wildness of his major label debut I Get Wet. While many artists hate being confined, W.K. readily embraces his public party persona. From his first EP on Bulb Records back in 2000 to this current release, he continues to preach the power of partying hard and shows no sign of stopping. William Archambeault

THE BREEDERS
ALL NERVE
(4AD)

Osa Atoe, publisher of the seminal zine Shotgun Seamstress (and former AG contributor) sent out this tweet recently: “I love that there’s new 90s-sounding music so that I can just continue on listening to the same old shit.” I don’t know if she was talking about the new Breeders record or not, but what a perfect encapsulation of this latest release, All Nerve, their first since 2008’s Mountain Battles. Full disclaimer: I love The Breeders and the Deal twins, so this review is going to hurt. It’s clear to me that Kim Deal was the John Lennon of the Pixies, striking out on her own for more daring creative territory than Frank Black, who seems happy to drive the Pixies’ legacy into a safe, commercially comfortable McCartney-esque coma. Which is why the release of All Nerve is so bittersweet—it really is “the same old shit.” The big news here is that All Nerve reunites the Last Splash lineup, one of the most era-defining albums of the ‘90s. But All Nerve feels like a collection of b-sides and half-baked ideas from that era—which, you know, the Breeders on their worst day still have a formula that transcends 99% of their peers. You can expect the same luscious guitar work, ethereal, unparalleled Deal twin vocals, and steely engineering courtesy of longtime collaborator Steve Albini. And yet… that adventurous creative spirit, which you can find in dense, complicated layers in their earlier work—especially Mountain Battles—feels absent. For Dealheads worldwide (myself included), this is no doubt a welcome release—and it’s not bad! It’s just… you know, the same old shit to love. —Dan Fox

HALF PAGAN
LAMENTATIONS
(ŠURANU NEKELMUTUM)

If you’re taking a theology course at one of New Orleans’ premiere institutions of higher learning, chances are your professor is a secret Garage Band freak on the weekend. A duo comprised of two guys who call themselves simply Editor B and Dr. Homan, Half Pagan comes off as the passion project of two frustrated academics channeling their angst into positive, lighthearted tunes that range from anthropology, spirituality, and even New Orleans history, to a deep dive into the fate of Soviet cosmonaut Laika, the first dog to orbit the Earth. “Public School Widower” is a quirky tune that laments the struggles of a public school teacher, but from the neglected spouse’s point of view. Straight up: this album is fucking odd, but in a way that evokes nostalgia for those weird little atmospheres of New Orleans that may not even exist anymore, like Borsodi’s or Kaldi’s—i.e. dingy, pre-Starbucks coffeeshops  filled with dog-eared paperbacks and clove cigarette smoke. The production and the performances on Lamentations are lo-fi but impassioned, with a dash of geek abandon that could make them musical cousins to They Might Be Giants or even Violent Femmes. I can imagine their sets at Banks Street Bar (which they name check in “Mid-City”) are pretty fun, light-hearted affairs, with all the gravity and complexity of academia lurking in the background. —Dan Fox

HARAM
بس ربحت, خسرت‭ ‬‭ ‬
WHEN YOU HAVE WON, YOU HAVE LOST
(TOXIC STATE)

With America’s fear and ignorance surrounding Muslims and brown folks, Haram’s (meaning “forbidden” in English) message is now more urgent than ever. With lyrics in Levantine Arabic, Haram challenges issues of oppression via 20 minutes of Nuke York punk in its rawest rare form. Haram attracted attention from the NYC Joint Terrorism Task Force, who paid a visit to Nader Habibi (an American Lebanese Shi’a) without ever making an attempt to translate Haram’s lyrics, which were anti-extremist and secular. Nevertheless, the Joint Task Force accused Nader of terrorism and seized his entire internet history search. The stand-alone track “ليست ارهابي (Not a Terrorist)” represents the struggle of what POC and marginalized folks face against police brutality and racist vigilantes. Listening to this record front to back twice, I’m left in tears. —Nessa Moreno

MONTAGUE
BLOOD ORANGE
(SELF-RELEASED)

Blood Orange is the debut LP from Montague, a local New Orleans indie rock band. They began performing live in early 2016 after some simmering song ideas started coming to life. Overall, Montague is precise in their execution of indie rock dogma, perhaps to a point of stagnation. But ultimately the songs are enjoyable. “Terpsichore” opens the record with an oscillating dark energy. Synths and guitar echoes twirl amongst James Rivard’s pronounced vocals. “Seneca Rises” offers a more piano-focused rock song that experiments with jarring dynamics between parts, complimentary of Ethan Kramer’s drum beat changes. “Windshield” is the most interesting song on the record. While it is the least rhythmically active, its chord changes and overall sound are the most original. Blood Orange is successful in delivering clean, conventional indie pop-rock. Robert Landry

PERVERTED CEREMONY
S/T  
(NUCLEAR WAR NOW!)

Perverted Ceremony put the world on notice last year with both their full-length debut, Sabbat of Behezaël, and their follow-up self-titled EP. While the machinations of ritualistic chants and doom-portending ululations undeniably enhanced the atmosphere on Sabbat, these formalities are abandoned mainly on this EP by going straight for the listener’s gullet and cerebrum. The steady jackhammer drumming is naturally simplistic. The guitar fuzz swarms like a killer beehive, and the vocals resemble a jaundiced pall. The band arguably saved some of their best material thus far for this EP. The 8-track analog recorder used in production captures their derelict warehouse, which looks and sounds more like a dungeon. Where most current black metal projects strive for the outsized professional sound, Perverted Ceremony scoffs at all that without any display of pretense. —Dan McCoy

PRIMPCE
THE BEST THING TO GET TO DO IS TO LEARN TO INSPIRE YOU
(SELF-RELEASED)

Primpce is a newcomer to the New Orleans DIY scene. Founded by Montgomery, Alabama transplants Alex Brownstein-Carter (Spellbreaker) and David Sigler (Quintessential Octopus), its lineup now includes guitarist Eric Buller and bassist Joe Ceponis (a fellow Octopus). Wearing boxers, matching neon green tall tees, and pink construction hats with hi vis pink and green back-flaps at their shows, Primpce play a bizarre brand of experimental music. Their debut project opens with a cover of Welsh post-punk pioneers Datblygu’s “Nos Da Sgum,” a shimmering harmonic artifact with a driving 6/4 meter, before immediately unraveling into a scrappy, self-produced collection of oddities, spanning 21 tracks in just over half an hour. Brownstein-Carter—who sings, drums, and plays bass on the album—provides jarring tempi and Captain Beefheart-style vocals, setting the scene for Sigler’s clipped, manic guitar-playing. Noodling instrumental interludes abound, but standout tracks like “16 Reps,” “I Laughed Inside Her,” and “Steatorrhea” (on which Brownstein-Carter worries he has a disorder defined by the dictionary as “the excretion of abnormal quantities of fat with the feces owing to reduced absorption of fat by the intestine”) anchor the album, offering glimpses into an alternate reality where the Minutemen still make music. —Raphael Helfand

SCREAMING FEMALES
ALL AT ONCE
(DON GIOVANNI)

On opener “Glass House,” Marissa Paternoster spills out introspective lines over a steady pulsating bassline and jagged guitar, proving she is just as skilled a songwriter as a guitarist. This album is a logical extension of the developments the trio made on 2015’s Rose Mountain. Paternoster tackles everything from relaxed ‘70s style ballad-esque rock on “Bird in Space” to driving, heavy riff raging on “Agnes Martin.” Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty makes an unexpected appearance on personal cut “Soft Dominance.” On two-parter “Chamber for Sleep,” the band flirts with psych rock, drifting away on an eight-minute journey. Contrasting this extended composition, the album sports many short pieces that offer brief glimpses into the band’s many directions. For instance, “Deeply” features them abandoning their signature guitar-driven sound for lo-fi keyboards and taking things slowly, without the urgency that defines many of their pieces. Album closer “Step Outside” channels the power of the group’s live performances, coming to a slow boil with an expansive, hypnotizing guitar solo. From the first note to the last, Screaming Females demand their rightful place as underground rock’s shining champions. William Archambeault

THE SOFT MOON
CRIMINAL
(SACRED BONES)

No one does desperation like Luis Vasquez. The Oakland-based one-man band occupies an insular space, somewhere in the crosshairs of synth-punk, no-wave, and industrial rock. On earlier projects, he restrained his anger, whispering into the microphone and letting his driving synths do the heavy lifting. But on Criminal, he finally lets loose the emotion previously held at bay. His pain is apparent from the album’s opener, “Burn,” on which he shouts “I am the stranger living in my skin / And it burns.” A Nine Inch Nails-inspired instrumental pounds beneath his voice, but doesn’t swallow it. “Choke” uses a rumbling synth bass poached from a techno club in hell as the platform for a disturbing ode to masochism. “Like a Father” obliquely addresses a past trauma with the refrain “You’re the ghost of my problem,” spoken in a chilling deadpan. And “ILL,” another instrumental filthy with Trent Reznor’s proverbial fingerprints, would be perfect background music at the roadhouse in Twin Peaks: The Return. With Criminal, Vasquez broadens his palate for textural and harmonic representations of suffering, and finally finds the strength to vocalize the desperation at the core of his musical expression. Raphael Helfand

SPECIAL INTEREST
SPIRALING
(RAW SUGAR)

There’s nothing in New Orleans quite as punk as Special Interest. The four-headed force of nature features fearsome vocals from Alli Logout (Lassie), set against the driving bass of Nathan Cassiani (Mystic Inane, Patsy), the screeching guitar of Maria Delgado (TV-MA) and the pulsing, synth-laden beats of Ruth Ex (Psychic Hotline). These moving parts converge on a black hole that sucks in the bullshit from the outside world, transforms it into a cloud of hellacious no-wave antimatter, and spews it back out in contempt. That may not be how an ordinary black hole works, but Special Interest’s dark energy defies science. Spiraling will sound familiar for fans who’ve followed the band since 2016: four of its eight tracks appeared on their demo (P.r.E.P. Love Unity Respect), and they’ve been playing the remaining half in recent shows. But razor-sharp production from Quintron gives the songs new life in the studio, making them almost as fun to listen to in your dark, sweaty room as in a dark, sweaty club. Standouts include the straight-ahead punk anthem “Young, Gifted, Black, In Leather,” the danceable “Disco II,” and “Art Walk,” a satirical ode to the daily activities of a working artist: “Pissing on the sidewalk and eating out the trash.” —Raphael Helfand

VALEE
GOOD JOB, YOU FOUND ME
(GOOD MUSIC)

Valee is the first new rapper I’ve been excited about in months. His thematic material is run-of-the-mill consumerist fare (he name checks multiple designer brands in every song on his new EP), but it’s his delivery that separates him from the pack. In an age of saturated autotune and maximalist trap instrumentals, Valee’s reserved monotone is refreshing. It brings to mind the ascendance of 21 Savage in 2016. But Valee’s unorthodox word play, disorienting slant rhymes, and apparent autonomy over his oddball aesthetic vision already put him in a higher artistic echelon than 21, who many still write off as a gimmick two years later, despite undeniable mainstream success. GOOD Job, You Found Me is Valee’s first project on Kanye West’s GOOD Music label. Comprised of only six tracks (half of them previously released) and clocking in at just under 15 minutes, it’s far from a full-length project. It functions, rather, as a sampler of the Chicago rapper’s skill set, served up hot to his hometown messiah’s rabid fanbase. Aside from Big Sean (the hip-hop equivalent of a McDonald’s happy meal), GOOD Music has been a failed model—neither hit machine nor edgy underground incubator—but Valee could be the start of a new era for the label. —Raphael Helfand

VARIOUS ARTISTS
FRESH! VOLUME ONE
(TEENY TINY)

Shayne Benz of NYC’s Krimewatch curated this compilation, featuring current hardcore punk bands composed of non binary folks, women, and QTPOC from around the U.S. and abroad, featuring new music from Body Pressure, Luxe, Krimewatch, Prison, Sin Cave, and one of my favorite intimidating bands, Firewalker. Their contribution is a new track called “Role model,” calling out the cookie cutter misogynist archetype that’s too painfully familiar within punk, hardcore, and DIY cultures with vengeful, growling vocals and downtempo East Coast hardcore—ideal for femme and queer fans of Hatebreed. This compilation is reinvigorating with a message of anger, solidarity, and genuine feeling. My prediction? This compilation will fall into the hands of an alienated brown girl or a closeted trans girl, an impetus to become their authentic selves. —Nessa Moreno

***

ANNIHILATION
DIR. ALEX GARLAND
(SKYDANCE/ DNA/ SCOTT RUDIN PRODUCTIONS)

It’s not often that a thoughtful sci-fi film sneaks through the muck of the studio system. But writer/director Alex Garland, known for 2014’s clinically effective Ex Machina (among many other projects, including The Beach and 28 Days Later), has found the sweet spot for cerebral and speculative features. Garland constructs an unshakably creepy narrative as hallucinogenic as it is mournful. Annihilation centers around an all-female team sent on a suicidal survey mission of an inexplicably condemned area of the American south. Those familiar with Jeff Vandermeer’s novel should know that while this film is an adaptation, the story’s DNA has been altered significantly, resulting in an entirely different beast. Annihilation fits within the tradition of meditative and deeply trippy science fiction thinkers like Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Natalie Portman brings a near catatonically depressed biologist to life, and Jennifer Jason Leigh provides brutal intensity as the single-minded leader of the expedition. The film leaves viewers with more questions than answers, but a surplus of stunning set-pieces and unsettling creature design offers the viewer a seat on a haunted carnival ride through an alien vision of a poisoned Gulf Coast. —Andrew Cirac

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