REVIEWS


BOREALIS REX
CUT YOUR TEETH
(DRAG SNAKE)

On their debut EP, Borealis Rex get down with five songs of pure Southern rock that hearkens back decades. Opener “Flood” is a ripping, boogie rock throwdown that could easily be mistaken for a lost ‘70s-era ZZ Top cut, if not for its distinct banjo breakdowns. While the mid-song shift from sharp guitar to twangy banjo is unexpected, the drummer’s thumping beat keeps the built-up momentum in place. Borealis Rex features two-thirds of Dash Rip Rock’s current lineup: founding guitarist Bill Davis and current bassist Chance Casteel. But don’t mistake this for merely a rebranded version of Dash Rip Rock. Casteel’s pronounced singer-guitarist role in Borealis Rex contrasts his sideman duties in Dash. With the help of banjo, fiddle, and keys, this five-piece expands upon DRR’s staple sound while venturing into territories previously unexplored by the power trio. On Casteel’s song “Take It Out On Me,” he busts loose with a short, high octane guitar solo before handing it off to Parker Freeman for a tasteful fiddle solo. Over three decades after Dash Rip Rock was started, Borealis Rex is taking their legacy in new directions. —William Archambeault

COSMA DOG
THREE DEAF RATS
(SELF-RELEASED)

Cosma Dog positively barges in with their new EP, Three Deaf Rats. Their nutty and erratic groove kindles some far-out, post-punk sounds that veer away from forbidding refinement and focus instead on raw, headbanging guitar riffage. To some degree, their frivolity can make their sound come off derivative and punny. The title is an example, potentially signifying some coarse rendition of “Three Blind Mice;” but it’s within these flippant moments that they aim to magnify the absurdity of rock n’ roll. “Drunk and Reeling” fronts a ghostly twang, as Isaac Derr aggressively strums stiff chords over his chants on scrutiny and isolation. The hip-twister “Get Your Gun Annie” plays to the band’s strength for rocking out, but also features some softer back-up vocals alongside Derr that provide a smooth contrast. The classic rock flavor of “Surf Surf” also hits hard and showcases solos from each musician. Accompanying Derr are Alli KB on bass and Katy Fenasci on drums. As a rhythm section, they hold down a strong foundation, allowing Derr’s shredding to dance around the songs, weaving in and out of control. —Robert Landry

DEERHUNTER
WHY HASN’T EVERYTHING ALREADY DISAPPEARED?
(4AD)

Deerhunter’s eighth album picks up where 2015’s Fading Frontier left off, deemphasizing guitars in favor of synthesizers and a sunny sound that belies the record’s dark themes. Listeners nostalgic for the shoegazey Deerhunter of old will probably be disappointed by Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? From the first chimes of harpsichord and piano on opener “Death in Midsummer,” it’s clear these guys have no interest in regurgitating their garage rock past. But in its finer moments, this record proves the band still has the ability to surprise. “Plains” experiments with percussion in a way Deerhunter never has before, with shuffling hand drums and a bass synth that smacks of electropop; and “Tarnung” is built on a xylophone progression that grounds an ethereal duet between singer Bradford Cox and guest Cate Le Bon. Disappeared is at its best when the band flexes its talent for building tension and atmosphere toward the end of songs, as on the outro of “No One’s Sleeping” or the final minutes of “Nocturne.” But for all its lush ambience, the album is sadly lacking in the kind of memorable hooks that made past Deerhunter releases so satisfying. It’s easy to get lost in these gorgeous songs, but there’s little motivation to return to them. —Nick Pope

GALACTIC
ALREADY READY ALREADY
(TCHOUP-ZILLA)

Galactic finished 2018 on a high note, finalizing their purchase of Tipitina’s from Mary and Roland von Kurnatowski in late November. They’re starting 2019 with new music. Their tenth studio LP, Already Ready Already, is set to drop this month. Galactic made their name as a high-energy jam band, but Already showcases a slicker, more curated side of the group. Five of the album’s eight tracks feature vocal performers, running the gamut from Youtube singing sensation Princess Shaw to Revivalists frontman David Shaw (no relation). No single track is particularly exciting, but impeccable production and musicianship tie the project together. The only major miss is “Dance At My Funeral,” on which local “cabaret rapper” Boyfriend provides some Dr. Seuss bars on the well-worn theme of New Orleans celebrations of life. The rest of the album flows well from start to finish. Adding trumpet from Shamarr Allen and trombone from Corey Henry to their tight, five-piece lineup, Galactic eschews the flashy solos of the past, creating upbeat instrumental foundations for their featured performers instead. After more than 20 years at the forefront of the New Orleans music industry, Galactic is passing the torch and sharing the spotlight. —Raphael Helfand

IRON REAGAN
DARK DAYS AHEAD
(POP WIG)

Iron Reagan launch a blitzkrieg assault: five songs in less than eight minutes. Dark Days Ahead is their second micro-release of 2018, hot off the heels of their split with metal ghouls Gatecreeper. In comparison to that split, this EP leans more heavily on the punk and hardcore side of the group’s crossover thrash sound. Opener “Authority” doesn’t let up for even a second. It’s a furious beatdown of shouting vocals, speedy guitar riffage, and pounding drums. On the title track, the group’s guitarists bash against their strings, and chords roll like hurricane force winds. Its lively drum breakdown and ominous chanting are sure to make it a welcome addition to the group’s live show circle pits. This release doesn’t push the band’s sound much further than their 2017 album Crossover Ministry, perhaps owing to the fact that some of the songs are holdovers from those sessions. What the EP lacks in innovation, it amply makes up for with energy. The short running time allows each song to stand strongly as an individual, distinct statement as opposed to a tiny piece of a larger entity. If Iron Reagan continues pushing out short and powerful releases like this instead of traditional full-length albums, I certainly won’t complain. —William Archambeault

JAMES BLAKE
ASSUME FORM
(POLYDOR)

Assume Form marks a clear shift in James Blake’s songwriting, providing listeners with some of his most accessible and beat-driven songs to date. A departure from the subdued longing that defined The Colour in Anything and Overgrown, Blake’s latest is a bit palatial, occasionally struggling to keep pace within its own expansiveness. Titular track “Assume Form” provides a deliberate, cathartic build, teasing the themes of the album, while the Metro Boomin and Travis Scott-assisted track “Mile High” plays like more of an Astroworld throwaway than a bonafide single. Although the two collaborations with Metro Boomin may fall a bit short, Blake impresses with production choices as the project unfolds, achieving a comforting symbiosis with his signature electronic instrumentation by track five. On the fantastic “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” Blake’s soothing falsetto sounds right at home, blanketed by layers of modulated vocal samples. Blake’s personal development is especially evident on penultimate track “Don’t Miss It,” which concludes with some of the most impactful, vulnerable lyrics of his career. Optimistic but never saccharine, Assume Form brandishes a sense of confidence, progression, and honesty that hasn’t been presented this clearly in any of his previous works. —Andy Swicord

KELLEN
LOWERCASE GOD
(COMMUNITY)

On Lowercase God, Austin trio Kellen lets loose with cascading emotions. Opener “Fishbowl” is a mixture of twisting math rock and booming percussion. “I can’t think when I know everything,” sings Claire Puckett with a sense of dreadful uncertainty. On “Filigree” (which first appeared on Community Records Compilation Vol. 6), her vocals hover calmly over a precise soundscape. This EP might be Kellen’s first release, but these musicians are not strangers to the math-tinged indie niche. Two-thirds of the trio also perform in Community labelmates Hikes. Puckett, who recently re-joined Hikes on guitar, is the core of Kellen’s sound. Her sincere vocals and guitar parts craft an atmosphere of their own. Joining her on this release are Hikes guitarist-singer Nay Wilkins on drums and bassist Dwight Smith. Wilkins, better known for his guitar work, serves as an unexpectedly dynamic drummer, elevating the songs to another level. The band constantly rides a fine line between dreamy and ominous. Those who have enjoyed the last couple years of Community’s output will surely find something to like in this release. —William Archambeault

THE SPECIALS
ENCORE
(UNIVERSAL MUSIC CATALOGUE)

A whopping 37 years have passed since The Specials released new music, and the aptly titled Encore sees the group revisiting the songs of their youth while also wrestling with the harsh truths of our current political climate. The outstanding “B.L.M” finds vocalist Lynval Golding telling a generational story of racial oppression. For better or for worse, the stories within Encore are undeniably marked by the passage of time. A cover of The Valentine’s 1967 classic “Blam-Blam Fever” provides testament to the timeless nature of two-tone with a gun-control anthem that feels just as relevant now as it must have then. Conversely, “Breaking Point,” which begins as a protest song, veers into technophobia as well as borderline transphobia: “Here comes another email, there goes another shemale” is a baffling line (“shemale,” if you don’t know, is considered a slur by the trans community) and a rare reminder that 37 years is, after all, a long time. Occasional missteps aside, Encore is a fascinating return to form for The Specials. Seemingly undeterred by numerous lineup changes, including the deaths of trombonist Rico Rodriguez and drummer John Bradbury in 2015, the band sounds as tight as ever. While there may be cracks in the veneer, Encore is a reminder that history repeats itself, and The Specials have the songs to prove it. —Andy Swicord

ADAM KOKESH
FREEDOM!
(SELF-PUBLISHED)

Over 200,000 New Orleans residents received a copy of Libertarian podcaster and 2020 presidential candidate Adam Kokesh’s manifesto, FREEDOM! last week. Despite the peppy name, tribal-tattoo-truck-decal cover, and the weirdo serial killer vibe of mass mailing a manifesto, it’s a dull read. On the second page, Kokesh claims “very few people…have taken the time to consider a precise definition of government,” yet his definition of it is “organized territorial control by unjustified force.” By this definition, corporations that employ armed security guards are government. But Kokesh likes making money, so he says “this is not intended to apply to company government.” He decides that corporate power doesn’t matter, and doesn’t address it again for the length of the booklet. Kokesh’s world doesn’t reflect the experience of most working people, which makes sense because he was raised in prep schools and makes his living in cryptocurrency and publicity stunts. For most of us, the governance that has the most direct effect on our lives is the will of rich people. We get our health care based on whether or not someone richer than us will hire us. Our ability to live indoors is determined by whether or not someone who is richer than us can make money off of letting us live inside of their building. The most interesting thing about this booklet is Kokesh’s ridiculous belief that he is a revolutionary. He claims he wrote this book while in jail for “civil disobedience,” but he was arrested for vandalism—regular vandalism, not the smashing-bank-windows-to-make-a-point kind. Libertarianism is a distillation of the dream of the rich: corporate rule unhindered by governance by the people. Kokesh believes in FREEDOM! for the very wealthy only, which is the status quo. —Kaitlin Marone

OTTESSA MOSHFEGH
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION
(PENGUIN PRESS)

If you’ve ever participated in a creative writing workshop, you’ve probably heard questions like, “What are the stakes here?” or “Why should I care about this protagonist?” These are usually valid concerns, but in Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories, they’re beside the point. Moshfegh is consistently cruel to her characters, sketching them with such ugly strokes they become objects of morbid fascination rather than players to root for or against. But her writing is so engaging and her observations so hilariously bleak that there’s rarely time to wonder what it all means, or why it matters. Her second novel tells the story of a beautiful, jaded, wealthy white woman with no moral compass or human compassion. After quitting her job at a Chelsea art gallery, she decides to spend a full year (beginning in late summer 2000) sleeping and watching movies in her luxurious Upper East Side apartment, chipping away at the sizeable savings account she’s inherited from her recently deceased parents. She gobbles downers like M&Ms and treats her small supporting cast with blatant contempt. Her infrequent suicidal ideations rouse little interest, even in her. “But your characters need to do things!” shouts the turtlenecked man in Moshfegh’s MFA program with Infinite Jest peeking from his New Yorker tote as our unnamed heroine hibernates for 300 pages. “Deus ex machina is lazy writing!” he whines as the novel ends neatly on 9/11; but the author has already left the building. —Raphael Helfand

TAKE ‘EM DOWN NOLA
ROOTS RISING: THE TAKE ‘EM DOWN NOLA ZINE VOL.1
(SELF-PUBLISHED)

Roots Rising is the first official account of the Take ‘Em Down NOLA grassroots movement, which sparked national attention resulting in the removal of four Confederate monuments around New Orleans. Commentary by the organization’s founders gives readers an intimate look into TEDN’s formation, a timeline of their demonstrations, and pays tribute to the groundwork laid by local activists dating back to the 1950s. The 55-page zine is bursting at the seams with poignant poetry, visual art, local history, and heartfelt stories. The most engaging element is its seamless amalgamation of movements centered on human rights: the McDonogh Day Boycott, Reverend Avery Caesar Alexander, Newton Knight and the unnamed poor white farmers who supported the Union Army, the hundreds of unrecognized and unpaid Latinx immigrants who helped rebuild after Katrina—all lesser known events and figures that prompt the recollection and evaluation of New Orleans’ past beyond mere nostalgia. Collectively, we are on the cusp of major political and cultural shifts. This zine is a thoughtful contribution by a group of individuals who are invested in shifting the narrative of our beloved city. —Jamilla Webb

ZACHARY LAZAR
VENGEANCE
(CATAPULT)

The narrator, a fictionalized version of Lazar, finds himself captivated by the story of Angola inmate Kendrick King after meeting him while covering a Christian passion play at the notorious prison. And while he does seek to uncover the truth about the inmate, his past, and his murder conviction, the short novel (which is 2019’s selection for the “One Book One New Orleans” project) isn’t really a whodunit. Lazar’s narrator, communicating in simple but often beautiful prose, comes to realize that he’ll likely never fully understand his subject, what happened on the night of the killing in question, or the broader processes that sweep young Black men into prison. There are no smoking guns, witnesses exposed telling lies, or secret caches of evidence unearthed—only questions and ambiguous answers from King, his social circle, and those in the vicinity of the murder scene. King himself can only speak to the narrator and, therefore, to the reader, through brief meetings under official surveillance at the prison or through transcripts of jailhouse interrogations. But as Lazar makes clear throughout the novel, his guilt or innocence ultimately don’t matter much to his likely lifetime in prison, effectively set in stone upon his arrest. —Steven Melendez

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK  
DIR: BARRY JENKINS
(PLAN B ENTERTAINMENT

This film opens with a quote by James Baldwin, from his 1974 novel of the same name, informing us, “Beale Street is a street in New Orleans…” We know, of course, this is false; on no Parish map will one find any “Beale Street.” But this isn’t a factual error. It is a literary conceit: the primordial ground where “[e]very black person in America was born.” In this way, we meet the story’s star-crossed lovers as in a fairy tale. Not one where all fares well and no one suffers; here, all suffer. They suffer a world lacking in love: of racist landlords, heartless cops, a corrupt justice system imprisoning Black men for crimes they didn’t commit. Thus does the archetypal unveil itself: We know this place. But here, also, love—between man and woman, parent and child, among neighbors—struggles to prevail. If description here rings sparse, it’s because after two hours (albeit memorable ones), I felt I barely knew these people. I knew their predicaments; I felt what Academy Award winning director Barry Jenkins wished me to feel. But like the love so lacking in the characters’ environment, any texture of nuance—with notable exception—was swept up in the film’s poetics. Still, despite the occasional affectation— blame the source material, or Jenkins’ love of Wong Kar-wai—it’s a worthy achievement. —Derek Zimmer