REVIEWS

CARDI B
INVASION OF PRIVACY
(ATLANTIC)

Women of color are out here breaking world records! Upon its release, Invasion of Privacy headed straight for the top spot on the Billboard 200, surpassed the 500,000 sales mark and was certified gold, and Cardi B is now a self-made millionaire at the tender age of 25. As my friend Kallie from Gland pointed out, this long-awaited release is a concept album, a classic story of rags to riches: “I been broke my whole life / I have no clue what to do with these racks / Wig be laid, waist snatched, ass fat, straight facts.” Tracks like “Money Bag” and “I Do” (with SZA) are archetypal of the quintessential “Bitch, why you mad?” style that first lured in her audience via the earth-shattering “Bodak Yellow.” “Best Life” (with Chance The Rapper) shows that despite her immunity to shade, she’s still very much tuned in: “Twitter with the backlash / #CardiBIsSoProblematic is the hashtag.” Invasion of Privacy is a direct response to the haters and the naysayers. It’s executed perfectly, playing to all her strengths. Cardi B is the new American dream. —Nessa Moreno

HANK WOOD AND THE HAMMERHEADS
S/T
(TOXIC STATE)

This self-titled release from Toxic State Records is the follow up to Hank Wood and The Hammerheads’ 2016 effort Stay Home!!. This NYC band is so deeply embedded in the underground punk scene that when I first saw them (with Pharmakon and Haram as openers), I thought of them as a new and improved Gun Club, but with less problematic lyrics. What sets apart this record from their previous releases? No percussion, no cowbell, and no sarcasm. The staples of The Hammerheads are intact though; the guitars and drums plow away with reckless abandon and organ pipes take you to church. I’m not sure if this should be called cowpunk or garage rock, but they are surly, crude, and as threatening as a hardcore beatdown. —Nessa Moreno

HIRS.
FRIENDS. LOVERS. FAVORITES.
(GET BETTER)

Philadelphia’s queer trans grindcore outfit Hirs Collective’s full length, Friends. Lovers. Favorites. is packed with guest appearances from living legends: Alice Bag, Martin Crudo of Limp Wrist/Crudos, Shirley Manson of Garbage, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Sadie Smith of G.L.O.S.S., Pierce Jordan of Soul Glo, and Moor Mother. Each track is very short, 30 seconds to one minute. Typically, I find grindcore or power violence tiresome and repetitive, but this is the exception to the rule. The Hirs Collective sprang forth from underground Philly basement gigs and has attracted attention from the likes of NPR and VICE, and rightfully so. The track “Trans Woman Dies of Old Age” drives a knife through the heart. I was reflecting upon this after their recent gig with Screaming Females: how many trans elders are still with us, alive and well? Next to none. Friends. Lovers. Favorites. Is, at its core, an abrasive battle cry for trans survival. —Nessa Moreno

HOP ALONG
BARK YOUR HEAD OFF, DOG
(SADDLE CREEK)

Hop Along has long been known for their ability to translate an array of emotions—ranging from anger to ardor, and even disappointment—into incredibly relatable music. Their new album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, is no different. Throughout the record, frontwoman Frances Quinlan softly sings hard-hitting lyrics like, “Through the phone I pull you and drag your voice around / You don’t know I know what’s wrong” and “So strange / To be shaped by such strange men,” which reflects the eloquent and impassioned nature of her songwriting. These powerful lyrics are backed by a blend of instrumentation, from twinkling violin to driving bass, country-fied guitar to medieval-esque orchestral arrangement. Of course, the defiant, brazen grunge sound Hop Along has worked hard to establish over the years is present on every track. This union of experimentation gives Bark a resistant and subversive feel that will empower longtime fans and first-time listeners alike. —Maeve Holler

HOVVDY
CRANBERRY
(DOUBLE DOUBLE WHAMMY)

Hovvdy’s second album, Cranberry, beckons the listener into a dream state of sentimentality—like you’re on the outside of your life looking in. Tracks like “Brave” and “Petal” are emblematic of the Austin duo’s unique ability to craft a fog of far-away nostalgia with simplistic, finger-picked guitar scattered over gentle drum lines. As if that wasn’t enough, Cranberry goes further and combines this wistful approach with the distorted, muffled vocals of Will Taylor crooning tenderly. All of these elements coalesce to create an air of forlorn, twangy yearning that perfectly lends itself to looking back in time. And while a soft-hearted air was undoubtedly present on their debut album Taster, it seems like this record is an indefinite experimentation in compassion. It is possible that the duo is returning to the minimalist roots they found on their 2015 Porch Sessions with Bored Room Productions, but this alternate direction is commanding in the best way possible. —Maeve Holler

JONATHAN BROWN
AGGRESSIVELY VULNERABLE
(SELF-RELEASED)

On Aggressively Vulnerable, Jonathan Brown bleeds, screams, masturbates, and commemorates in ways that make this album feel interactive. Brown’s rhymes find ways to reach his listener’s inner core and massage our collective insecurities and aspirations. “Metaphors” opens with a synth crescendo under a pulsing hi-hat that explodes into a chopped up beat while Brown barks his poetic dissonance. His most notable attribute, however, is his heart. As a New Orleans local, Brown is altruistically unashamed of his expression. There is no lack of passion when it comes to rhymes, flow, or vocabulary. In all fashions, he is a rapper, poet, academic, and performer, no more so than in the track “Im Possible.” Brown battles with the terms artists wade through, reflecting on how we are quite possibly products of a bigger system of art, as opposed to being an art-producing entity that is in control. His more serious and speculative works are coupled with obscure, light-hearted songs like “Wash That Chicken” and “They Know,” which helps to balance out the album well. “The Grades We Deserve” is the most hard-hitting song as he returns to the classroom, recalling his past experiences teaching public school in New Orleans. Brown challenges the machine and our complacency, pushing the line between rapper and poet. —Robert Landry

MELTING COFFIN
S/T
(SELF-RELEASED)

Those familiar with local psychedelic rockers Druids (briefly Druidian Pink) will recognize Brandon Meyers’ voice and chunky rhythm guitar on Melting Coffin’s self-titled debut EP. This digital release trades the cerebral sci-fi of Druids’ Pink Aliens for something more raw and straightforward. While Meyer may have shifted the focus from blowing your mind to rocking your face, he still showcases his gift for exotic guitar melodies, notably on the album’s penultimate track “Gimme Madness.” Elsewhere, his introspection shifts from mind-bending chromatic riffs to a pointed lyrical style, as in the satirical sneer of “The Preacher.” Some may question whether the added grit in these fist-pumpers truly justifies a new project. How long until Melting Coffin is covering Druids songs or vice versa? But whatever suspicions you may have about the singer/songwriter’s motivations for the switch—perhaps he just liked the new band name better—he explains himself rather succinctly in the album’s closing track: “I did it for the rock’n’roll.” —Michael Kunz

PARQUET COURTS
WIDE AWAKE!
(ROUGH TRADE)

Parquet Courts performed on Ellen in April, dispelling its last vestiges of indie cred. The band’s early albums, released on New York imprint What’s Your Rupture?, felt distinctly DIY, obscuring hyper-insightful lyrics with layers of reverb and fuzz. But since joining the legendary London post-punk label Rough Trade, they’ve polished their sound. On Human Performance (2016), they pushed their intellect to the forefront for the first time. And on Milano, their 2017 collab with Italian composer Daniele Luppi and Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), they went full cosmopolitan. The scrappy Southerners have become New York’s preeminent musical analogues—noisy, constantly moving, and intelligent to the point of arrogance. On Wide Awake!, produced by Brian Burton (Danger Mouse), the transformation is complete. The album flows between protest songs (“Violence”), ballads (“Mardi Gras Beads”), and dance tracks (“Wide Awake”). The latter, a high-energy ode to stimulants, came with a music video shot in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and the video for “Mardi Gras Beads” will feature footage from the band’s surprise post-Bacchus performance at OK Bar. That night, the camera crew interrupted their set twice to redo the video’s opening shot, eliciting boos from a drunk, amped-up audience. The band looked uncomfortable, wishing for simpler times when a punk show was just a punk show. But Parquet Courts are rock stars now, and they might as well get used to it. —Raphael Helfand

RAFIQ BHATIA
BREAKING ENGLISH
(ANTI)

North Carolinian guitarist-composer Rafiq Bhatia is truly enigmatic. After his debut in 2012, Bhatia was touted as a prodigy for his other-worldly, seemingly improvised tunes. On his new album, Breaking English, the experimental electronic jazz musician once again delves into the imaginative realm of hybridity, albeit in a different, less chaotic manner. He deftly melds together a variety of elements like acoustic strings, deep bass, and drum machines, giving the record a symphonic sound that surfaces unannounced. The tracks “Before Our Eyes” and “Breaking English” are wholly representative of this avante-garde shift—their warm, ethereal chords stray into the captivating territory of soul music. These tracks are sandwiched by turbulent, impressionist numbers like “The Overview Effect” and “Perihelion I,” which will definitely displace some listeners. The moments where Bhatia dives into this opaque complexity are worthwhile from an artistic standpoint, but interspersing these tracks seems ineffective, and it makes it difficult to listen to the album straight through. Skip around Breaking English and find the intricate beauty hidden amongst the disunion. —Maeve Holler

WYE OAK
THE LOUDER I CALL, THE FASTER IT RUNS
(MERGE)

The Louder I Call, The Faster it Runs is like a classifieds ad for synth lovers. The ever-inventive duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack has repeatedly revamped their sound since their debut album If Children dropped in 2008, but this electronic-inspired record takes Wye Oak’s innovative nature to a whole new level. This isn’t to say that the group’s urgent, emotive components—like Wasner’s vocals—are absent on Louder, as they are clearly on display in tracks like “Lifer” and “You of All People.” But rather, Wye Oak will never stop experimenting. Just as their fourth album, Shriek, ramped up their pastiche-like style, this new record flirts with crossing the instrumental boundaries of indie rock. Louder plays with exciting, unfamiliar aspects of futurism, ‘80s pop, and early 2000s chillwave otherwise unheard of in Wasner and Stack’s previous collaborations. While the record can take on a sound similar to groups like The Postal Service and Rogue Wave at times, Louder is yet another refreshing angle for Wye Oak. —Maeve Holler

VARIOUS ARTISTS
REVUE 1
(UNITED BAKERY)

Revue 1 is the first of an annual compilation series by United Bakery Records. No.1 features twelve New Orleans bands recorded before a live audience at Marigny Studios. It documents an aesthetic of the city that has devoured the Bywater and Frenchmen venues over the last few years, featuring bands that channel a new wave of musicians influenced by folk, Americana, indie, and jazz. The compilation features acts such as Tasche & The Psychedelic Roses, Julie Odell, Toonces, and Maggie Belle Band. It opens with “Cold Bed” by The Tumbling Wheels, a song that, while jovial in melody, depicts the loneliness of the narrator waking up alone to a missing lover. Further along, Toonces arrives with “Amphibian,” an ambient and pulsing ballad that breaks away from the mostly folk-influenced acts, Chelsea Hines echoing an ethereal verse atop a repetitive, moody guitar. To close the album, Adrienne Edson and Duke Aeroplane & The Filthy Trumps arrive, providing closure via definitive song structures and twirling melodies. Overall, the compilation is precise in providing the listener with a synopsis of the talented singer-songwriters of New Orleans. With that in mind, the series could benefit from branching out beyond this small circle of elite bands to discover the plethora of similar New Orleans artists who don’t frequent the Bywater. —Robert Landry

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#RELATABLE
MARQUITA NORWOOD
(SELF-PUBLISHED)

A self-proclaimed “hater” hailing from Oakland California, Marquita Norwood has steadily grown in popularity over the past few years and has become one of my favorite personalities on social media. Thanks in part to the encouragement of her internet following, she penned a book. #Relatable is comprised of over 50 pages of hilarious critiques, each paragraph a Facebook status, one right after the other. This is ideal for that cynical, LaCroix-drinking, WOC Millennial, trudging-through-an-existential-crisis, grappling-with-late-stage-capitalism demographic. Norwood covers topics ranging from blatant colorism, to being ghosted via modern courtship, to sending nudes, expounding on these topics via social commentary edged with razor wit. It’s all painfully relatable: See “The Olympic Winter Games should recruit new athletes on the show Maury. The way those guests be running, jumping, and flipping when they realize they are not the father could easily earn the U.S. gold.” and “Why everybody who share screenshots have like 4% battery life? The tea that important you can’t charge before you spill?” TL;DR Norwood is a sharp comedic genius, and her content is powerful  #blackgirlmagic. —Nessa Moreno