REVIEWS


CAT POWER
WANDERER
(DOMINO)

Following her previous album Sun—an electronic departure from the mournful simplicity of her early work—Wanderer seems to be a return to the heady malaise that made so many of us first fall in love with Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power. The title track kicks off the album with a sublime resonance that feels like coming home. From the stark and spacious piano high notes in “Stay” to the haunting reverberations of the electric guitar on “You Get,” the songs that follow revisit the satisfying soundscape of The Greatest and Jukebox while still somehow seeming new. “Woman,” which features the vocal stylings of Lana del Rey, is an appealing blend of the two female voices against a snappy, resolute rhythm. The final songs slide deep into the minor key in which Marshall seems so at home, and “Wanderer/Exit,” the final track on the album, feels more like a mood than a melody. Those who applauded Sun for its deviation from her more predictable sound may be disappointed that Wanderer did not carry on the experiment, but the diehard fans will welcome a return to the sweet spot of lingering moments and gratifying heartbreak that is so uniquely Cat Power. —Holly Devon

HELEN GILLET
HELKIASE
(SELF-RELEASE)

Helkiase—which refers to a medicine invented by 18th century Belgian nuns—is a fitting name for Helen Gillet’s new album, considering the cello player might be the strongest medicine to emerge from Belgium since then. It is classic Gillet, an adroit display of the meandering, spectral sound that has earned her a place among the most popular live acts in town. The album continues to explore the same musical echo chamber—made of her signature marriage of cello and loop pedal—that has defined her previous work. Nonetheless, some tracks throw the listener a curveball or two. In opener “Quand Je Marche,” Gillet adopts classical Indian techniques that give new texture to a familiar style. On the title track, the album takes an unexpected turn as she accompanies her cello with robotic sounds and ethereal voices, an extended experimental moment that continues in “Tonnerre,” which features what seems to be a heated conversation between a staticky French newsreel and a furious cello bow. Gillet’s evident curiosity for unexplored sonic territory pushes the album’s horizons forward, and makes it worth hanging in to see where she is headed. —Holly Devon

MEHENET
DII INFERI
(SELF-RELEASE)

When it comes to black metal, that shit needs to be evil. Between the corpse paint, shirtless dudes in the woods, screaming at the moon, or the whole adoring Satan thing, it’s genre standard to be grim 24/7. And there’s the music, the depth, the cruelty of the blast beats and fast-picked guitars, the stylistic tonality, and the attitude—I know when shit sounds scary, and Mehenet sounds like Dracula crawling up from the gutters. On their relentless record Dii Inferi, Mehenet channels those vibes of lore, the stuff dragged out from the pages of Lords of Chaos—blood, death, church burnings, and even a little murder, coupled with some ritualistic brain-eating. This is dangerous black metal that doesn’t give up. The blast beats are steady and the riffs smoke, while the creature croaking along is on some Prince of Darkness level stuff. I appreciate that “Camilla” isn’t as straight ahead, but feels more nuanced, and shows a diverse approach rather than relying on just fast playing. Instead there are some serious female moans while homie screams his guts out. This is not beginner-level gloom right here. —Robert Dean

SHARKS’ TEETH
ORLANDO’S BLOOM
(COMMUNITY)

Local synth aficionados Sharks’ Teeth are constantly re-defining themselves. On their new EP Orlando’s Bloom, the group masquerades as a lounge version of themselves, rearranging five selections from their discography. A new version of “Lost in the Cosmos,” humorously rebranded “Lost in the Costco,” opens the release. It abandons the pulsating pop of the 2016 original version for muzak-inspired vibrations and vocals drowning in delays. The relaxed atmosphere conjured by humming key melodies and slow-paced drum machine taps on “Giovanni’s Bloom” feels like something that might serve as the soundtrack for a supermarket scene in an indie movie. Closing track “Dharma Decay” combines repetitive melodies and Emily Hafner’s calming vocals to invoke a trance-like state. These lounge arrangements are just one example of the group’s constantly shifting dynamics. This release sounds quite different from Wissenschaftslehre V or Give Someone a Gift When You’re Angry, the 29-track-long collection of ambient instrumentals they released earlier this year. Preceding that was their 2016 album It Transfers & Grows, a collection of upbeat, poppy tunes. Every release seems to capture Sharks’ Teeth as they want to appear at that given moment. At the EP’s release show in November, the group switched things up yet again, abandoning their long-time coveted drum machines in favor of a new configuration, adding guitar, bass, and drums to their pile of synthesizers. As always, only Sharks’ Teeth knows what will come next.  –William Archambeault

TRASHLIGHT
HONEY INSULATION
(SQUALL)

After years without a new release, goth renaissance exemplar Trashlight finally bring us the Honey Insulation EP. Drenched in effects and often times disorienting, album opener “Metamerism” is a substantial track before walking back into the familiar with “Black Mineral Hotel.” Their Darling Darkling/Black Mineral Hotel single, released two years ago, instantly made this band one of my favorite locals. However, the second go-around of “Black Mineral Hotel” is different, and I’m not entirely sure it’s better. I can’t help but wonder what another new track would’ve sounded like here; and the absence of pairing it with a track like “Darling Darkling” left me wanting another song similar to the Echo & the Bunnymen vibe they delivered so well last time. The title track surrounds you with reverberation and floats around you until it closes. Closing track “The Harrows” is the best of the bunch. With its driving riff and distorted samples, it carries the elevated feel of the EP well, then proceeds to crash it all back down with a satisfying blow. —Gregory Manson

WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS
THE MORE I SLEEP THE LESS I DREAM
(BIG SCARY MONSTERS)

Scottish indie rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks continue to refine their post-punk chops on The More I Sleep The Less I Dream, the band’s fourth LP and first since the departure of keyboardist/third guitarist Stuart McGachan. Without the extra instrumentation, the new record sounds focused and open, allowing guitarists Adam Thompson and Michael Palmer to enunciate every arpeggio, echo, and reverb trail over the ever-pulsing, four-on-the-floor rhythm section. This is thanks in part to producer Jonathan Low (The National) who indulges Thompson and Palmer’s pedal hopping—love that octave pedal at the end of “Hanging In”—but leaves plenty of room for Thompson’s thick Scottish accent front and center. Some listeners may be wary of the monotonous vocal delivery and bleak lyricism—and there is definitely a pervasive sense of isolation and loneliness throughout the album. But Thompson’s shout-singing also expresses an unmistakable desire for connection; highlights like “Impossible” crescendo to match his escalating wails admirably. While this brand of ‘80s-indebted post-punk feels a little anachronistic in 2018, The More I Sleep’s high-water marks prove that the genre can still sound thrilling. —Nick Pope

SARA GRAN
THE INFINITE BLACKTOP
(SIMON & SCHUSTER)

In the third installment of a series that began with the post-Katrina New Orleans mystery Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Gran’s beautiful prose continues to make her oddball mix of hardboiled detective storytelling and magical realism come together. DeWitt, now in Oakland, is a member of an obscure faction of private detectives who follow the teachings of Jacques Silette, a (fictional) French master detective whose often-excerpted crime-solving manual reads like a collection of Zen koans by Jean-Paul Sartre. She and her fellow Silettians are compulsive solvers of mysteries who claim to be motivated chiefly by the urge to unwrap their cases. But like fictional detectives dating back to the days of Raymond Chandler, she cares more about her clients than she lets on. As in previous installments, Gran intertwines a DeWitt case with the detective’s efforts to solve mysteries from her own past, this time introducing a mysterious rival who seems intent on seeing her dead. Like Netflix’s Jessica Jones, it’s hard not to feel the strong series could be even stronger if the detective were allowed to leave her overwrought personal history behind and simply solve cases. —Steven Melendez

MICHAEL ALLEN ZELL
CITY KRYSTAL SOULMAN
(MBW)

The third installment in Zell’s Bobby Delery series delivers another shaggy dog crime story replete with local references and infused with the author’s wry sense of humor. Delery is a mixed-race Tulane criminologist who recently returned to his native New Orleans. His background means he can blend with confidence into many of the city’s distinctive cultures. That conceit has let Zell craft plots where admittedly improbable coincidences ensnare New Orleanians from multiple walks of life. As in previous volumes, Delery—who begins the novel wondering how he’s still finding glitter on his body six months after Mardi Gras—meanders his way to the center of the crime. Here, he investigates a friend’s kidnapping tangentially linked to a Noah’s Ark-inspired Ponzi scheme run by corrupt church leaders and a scheming jazz performer. Zell mostly portrays his characters realistically and empathetically, though he has a tendency to create comic book-style villains that can feel a bit out of place. Still, he skips most of the awkward cliches, unfortunate stereotypes, and dad jokes that mar a lot of other authors’ humorous crime stories. His gentlemanly and improbably lucky scholar-detective feels right for New Orleans. —Steven Melendez

DALT WONK
SPIRITUAL GIFTS
(LUNA PRESS)

A singer at a past-its-prime French Quarter piano bar plays “The Party’s Over” in the conclusion to this intertwined collection of melancholy New Orleans stories. The meaning isn’t hard to grasp. The events take place over a handful of hours back when New Orleanians still shopped at K&B and Maison Blanche, though many of the characters are mentally living a few years further back still. An older generation talks to and of the dead, while the middle-aged muddle through with the help of strong drinks and relationships kept stormy for a lack of knowledge of anything else to do. Wonk is also a playwright and drama critic, and it shows in these mostly dialogue-driven stories. Each takes place in a single Vieux Carré location. He has an ear for dialogue, though his mostly endearing characters sometimes lapse from their natural dialects into a surreal Southern verbosity, as if drunkenly remembering elocution lessons from Flannery O’Connor. Illustrations by Simon Gunning, reminiscent of art from Weimar-era Berlin, suit the tone of awkwardly aging decadence that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent long nights in certain quiet corners of the Quarter. —Steven Melendez

FEAST
CURATED BY JILLIAN GIBSON
(BARRISTER’S GALLERY)

Jillian Gibson has curated a show that is about the aesthetic and emotional spaces in which eating occurs as much as it is about food itself. Assemblages by Artemis Antippas, Pippin Frisbie-Calder, and Elizabeth Shannon turn sections of the gallery into vignettes that isolate various approaches to the consumption of food. Shannon’s large wooden forms are paired with real fruit, broken firearms, plastic bread, and printouts of futurist texts. The effect is one of austere surrealism that feels like a bygone world seen through a kaleidoscope. Frisbie-Calder’s silver oyster wallpaper and Antippas’ pastel glittered towers of fried foods define spaces where food is transformed into something sparkling and valuable that contrasts strangely with the gross biology of eating. Also working in the space around food is Ma Pó Kinnord, who has made spoons and bowls that speak to traditions of feasting and the tools used therein. Daphne Loney’s work depicts food, but in a way that separates it from its eatability. Drawing from Flemish dead animal paintings, Loney’s food is also animal, so gently dead that it could almost be sleeping. Only Herb Roe’s richly lifelike oil paintings look directly at food itself, intensely fatty sausages that leave grease on their wrappings, translucent lemons. Overall, a satisfying show that uses sharp contrasts to underscore the contradictions and complications of our long history with food. –Happy Burbeck

NO MAN’S LAND
CURATED BY DAN TAGUE
(ISAAC DELGADO FINE ARTS GALLERY)

We live on land that is in retreat. The more we build upon it, cut into it, or try to own it, the more it slips away. The tense and difficult relationship between humans and our environment is at the heart of this excellent show curated by Dan Tague. In Hannah Chalew’s massive drawing installation, the substrate itself is a symbol of the surrounding landscape. Made of sugar cane pulp that is studded with specks of plastic, the handmade paper on which Chalew has drawn an intricate and sprawling scene is mounted at a distance from the wall of several inches so that its cut-out edges are multiplied in swarms of shadows cast by the gallery lights. The drawing itself is a landscape without horizon that ignores gravity and dips upside down in places, creating a hallucinatory, vertiginous space. Horizons are also largely absent from Michel Varisco’s photographs. Sparse and dreamlike, they provide a soothing visual counterpoint to Chalew’s densely packed drawing. The photographs depict scenes of mundanity, refineries and smoke plumes, in a shallow range of values against the waters of the wetlands in whose destruction they are instrumental. The empty silence of these photographs seems inevitable, the end of the world simply a foregone conclusion. And between the somber works of these two artists, running down the center of the gallery, we have Dan Rule’s wee landscape sculptures. His framed scenes are made of model trees and terrain of the sort used in tabletop gaming or model trains, and seem familiar, friendly, and nearly habitable. Deceptive in their playfulness, these miniature worlds reflect our own desire to control our landscape back at us. How much control do we have over the horrific changes to our environment? The artists purchased a renewable energy certificate to offset the power used for the life of the show in a gesture that seems to say: “not enough.” —Happy Burbeck


JEFF TWEEDY
WARM
(DBPM)

JEFF TWEEDY
LET’S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK): A MEMOIR OF RECORDING AND DISCORDING WITH WILCO, ETC.
(DUTTON)

Wilco is commonly referred to—sometimes fondly and sometimes backhandedly—as “dad rock.” Lead singer Jeff Tweedy certainly looks the part these days, often sporting a scruffy beard, a utility jacket, and a general teddy bear countenance. But even the most casual observer, if they look past the surface of the band’s mid-tempo rock, can see there is much more going on here. Tweedy is, without a doubt, one of the greatest lyricists of his generation. And in 2018, he has given us a peek further behind the curtain than ever before with the release of his solo album WARM and a memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). When digested together, they paint the vivid picture of a seasoned artist engaged in a state of deep and candid reflection. Let’s Go begins with Tweedy’s childhood, set in an overwhelmingly mauve home located in the small Midwestern town of Belleville, Illinois. The son of a railroad worker and a homemaker, you might say his upbringing was nothing special. However, as the story develops, it’s easy to spot those ugly fissures that crop up in the lives of so many “normal” people: his father’s drinking, his mother’s insistence on being his friend instead of his mom, his parents’ antagonistic relationship, and his budding, uncontrollable anxiety… just to name a few. These will all come into play again down the road, both in his musical output and personal struggle with addiction. The seeds of the prolific (but ultimately doomed) artistic partnership with fellow Uncle Tupelo founder Jay Farrar are revealed; and despite knowing how that story ends, it’s heartwarming to watch them discover the wide world of music together. If you’ve followed Wilco (and Uncle Tupelo before them) you probably have some kind of idea what Tweedy was like as a young man, but to hear it in his own words is something altogether different. The portrait he paints is one of general unease—always a bit on edge and suffering the lot of being a square peg in a round hole. The origin stories of rockstars are often riddled with dramatic events, but Tweedy’s relatively unremarkable past places him on a much more relatable level: a pretty good kid grows up feeling like a weirdo in his small town with a family that is actually a bit fucked up, only he doesn’t realize it at the time. From there the book takes flight as buzz builds around Uncle Tupelo before its unceremonious crash. The birth of Wilco and its personnel shifts are covered at length (and yes, Tweedy discusses what caused the cataclysmic clash with Jay Bennett). He goes into detail about his unique approach to the songwriting process, which might surprise you. It is imminently engaging for anyone with an interest in lyricism. He talks about the drugs; how could he not talk about the drugs? Tweedy’s rehab experience—relayed partially through a Q&A with his wife Susie—was nothing like the fancy Malibu day spa program most celebrities undergo, and it’s interesting to see how he grappled with the stereotype that art made by sober people is somehow lacking. Like any good dad, Tweedy also takes time to brag on his kids—not for nothing, as both of them have performed with him at one time or another, and his older son Spencer actually helped produce WARM.

Towards the end of the book, Tweedy lets the reader in on it: WARM is the most directly autobiographical album he has ever produced. Opener “Bombs Above” features a line pulled directly from his rehab experience (“Suffering’s the same for everyone”); and “Don’t Forget” details the experience of his family rushing to his dying father’s bedside (“Don’t forget / We sometimes all think about dying / Don’t let it kill ya”). “Having Been Is No Way To Be” is the most honest description of his state of mind during his drug use (“I begged my nerves to kick me something new”) and will speak to anyone who has battled a demon or two in their time. The album’s tracks veer from the classic Wilco staple of warm and sunny instrumentation laced with menacing lyrics (“Some Birds”) to more experimental, spacey orchestrations that focus on minimal mantras (“The Red Brick”) and the blending of the two into a somehow cohesive whole (“From Far Away”). Across both the book and the album, Tweedy is talking—ultimately—about the intricacies of life and death. His work is often dubbed pedestrian by fans of flashier genres, but at the end of the day, what Tweedy’s music does is reflect our lived experiences back at us. Life is short, but can feel so long. Life is boring, but can have such fantastic peaks. Death is coming for all of us, but don’t let that worry you. Call it maudlin shoegazing if you must, but isn’t the entire point of art to help us make sense of the randomness of life? Both the album and book are Tweedy’s genuine attempt at forging a real connection. Who says we need all of our rock’n’roll heroes to be mysterious and tortured? I’ll take mine in “dad” clothes with a warm smile and a kind—if somewhat dark—word of consolation. —Erin Hall