It has been four long years since Baths (a.k.a. Will Wiesenfeld) released the haunting record Obsidian. As a longtime fan, I never thought he could top those complex and driving soundscapes from 2013. But of course, I was wrong. Listening to Romaplasm, his fourth studio album, is to soak in magnificent wonder. From the opening track, “Yeoman,” where Baths crafts electronic optimism, to the persistent, experimental song “Adam Copies,” which incorporates elements of video game soundtracks, Romaplasm is awe-inspiring. Throughout this release, listeners will undoubtedly bask in the surging cadences and moments showcasing Wiesenfeld’s iconic and stirring falsetto. On this album, Baths returns to his speculative roots. Many pieces, like “I Form,” are reminiscent of the sublimity he presented on records like 2010’s Cerulean and in his early project [Post-Foetus]. At his best, Baths’ work makes it hard to breathe, and Romaplasm does just that. Maeve Holler


English experimental artist Bibio (Stephen Wilkinson) released his ninth studio album, Phantom Brickworks, last month to mixed feelings. The record is a tranquil nine-track journey through an assortment of ambient instrumentals similar to Will Wiesenfeld’s ongoing vocally bereft project, Geotic. While this minimalist sound isn’t unknown to Bibio, Phantom Brickworks almost seems sparse in comparison to the layered canopy of tracks on albums like 2013’s Silver Wilkinson and 2009’s Ambivalence Avenue. Throughout this release, the tracks unfold in a mysterious, ghostly manner, allowing the listener to fall into a melancholy lull. Until the final song, “CAPEL BETHIANA,” where Bibio masterfully plays with delicate twinkles of piano, Phantom Brickworks lacks much variation from track to track. This is not to say that the album was wholly unsuccessful, but rather that Bibio is taking a much different route this time around. On this record, Bibio reveals a funeral-esque sense of despondency absent from much of his previous work, and longtime fans should be excited to see so much emotion come to the surface. —Maeve Holler


Like David Simon’s shows (The Deuce, Treme), Daniele Luppi’s music transports its audience to a specific time and place. On his last album, Rome, he teamed up with Danger Mouse, Jack White, and Norah Jones to evoke ‘60s Italian film scores. Strangely, it worked. This time, he’s brought on New Yorkers Parquet Courts and Karen O to recreate the chic, drug-fueled dream world of ‘80s Milan. He’s succeeded again, and formed a supergroup in the process, a pairing that feels obvious only in hindsight. Parquet Courts play on every track, with the Savage brothers (drums, rhythm guitar) and bassist Sean Yeaton providing the backdrop for lead guitarist Austin Brown’s jarring, down-tuned licks, with occasional sax solos from Luppi himself. Andrew Savage and Karen O trade tracks as vocalists, O’s manic angst the perfect foil for Savage’s languid ennui. The album climaxes when they finally join forces on “Pretty Prizes,” O entering in style to sing the hook. The project loses steam on its last two tracks due to O’s absence, and the meandering instrumental finale, “Café Flesh,” doesn’t feel like the ending the album deserves, but Milano remains an impressive feat. And if Yeah Yeah Yeahs ever call it quits, Karen O would do well to form a more permanent partnership with Savage and Co. —Raphael Helfand


I listened to side A of this record and didn’t get the “mutant” “art” impression I had come to expect. Every song sounded great, but darkwave is too easy to not be trendy, and vocalist Laura Callier’s style and focus—almost exclusively sex and drugs—seemed a pretty clear case of that. My mind changed with the side A closer, though—some synth blips and chimes echoing in the husk of a jingle with no climax or statement beyond a tired call to revolution. Then Body Copy threw in “Bounce,” a conspicuously typical minimal synth-pop track so intensely fixated on ass, acid, and their respective meanings for “drop” that they all blur. The boundaries distinguishing consumption, copulation, experience, commodity, drug, and orgasm all collapse and—with all tropes leveled—there’s still a catchy dance track. Realizing Callier is powerfully magnifying the intersection of commercial pop culture’s shallow materialism and the underground’s intellectualized hedonism, I am still surprised that her cold, catchy critique turns to sex on the next track, “Sex Numerals.” Body Copy works well as the collection of brazen party jams it immediately appears to be, while also serving as a cunning update to synth-pop’s formative alienation from the mainstream. —Ben Miotke


Prolific hip-hop artist LE$ can’t stop. The Houston native and former Jet Life member released his newest mixtape, The Catalina Wine Mixer, in late October, one of ten records he’s dropped in 2017 alone. On tracks like “Nightvision Goggles” and “Catalina,” LE$ features experimental samples and an effortlessly intellectual flow that echoes the tenets of neo-Southern rappers. While fans have hyped his sound as branching off of other New Orleans rappers in the Jet Life collective, like Curren$y and Young Roddy, The Catalina Wine Mixer flaunts more subdued and unconventional elements. Here, LE$ plays with jazz instrumentations, funky ‘70s R&B, and different found elements, like vintage radio broadcasts. Overall, the result is enticing, and with its other-worldly transitions and mysterious interludes that beautifully unravel into heaving beats, the mixtape represents a disorienting voyage through LE$’s complicated life and rise to fame. Maeve Holler


In 2013, Japanese-English singer songwriter Rina Sawayama rocked the web with her unforgettable single “Sleeping in Waking.” Four years later, she’s back and better than ever with her debut self-titled mini album, RINA, which is essentially the love child of glitter pop and the internet age. The record intertwines twinkly pop-rock with authoritative feminine vocals, allowing Sawayama to scale an impressive range of peaks established by quintessential ‘90s pop superstars like Mariah Carey and Destiny’s Child. On tracks like “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” and “Take Me as I Am,” Sawayama uses a vibrant and full array of fast-tempoed elements that build into an empowering apex where she spits lines like, “Every single day I fight another war, every night I feel more powerful.” RINA even experiments with ‘80s-inspired components, like in the eerie, guitar-driven track “10-20-40” where Sawayama’s vocals become robotic and even more assertive. The record is chock-full of gems, but the track “Tunnel Vision,” which features guest vocalist Shamir, is incomparable—it’s an incredibly soulful and liberating tribute to the challenges of relationships and the cyclical nature of depression. Recommended for fans of Princess Nokia, Solange, and Noname. —Maeve Holler


When Donovan Wolfington released How to Treat the Ones You Love, that powerful blend of pop-punk, hardcore, noise, indie rock, and ‘90s emo simmered in my soul like a slow-cooked pot of greens. That record lead me to Pope, which boasts two-thirds of the D-Wolf writing team—the two-thirds that kind of stiff arm the pop-punk hardcore moments and delve deeper into sonic booms of melancholy, simplifying the flavors for a possibly more refined palate. Their second album, True Talent Champion, is a masterpiece of torment. “David Caspian” opens the record with enough chunky riffs and pop sensibilities to seem like it could be a song that never made it onto a Donovan Wolfington record, but that’s as close as Pope comes to feeling like their former band. The spiralling riff in “Feels Like Home” will be stuck in your head for hours. “Talk Me Out Of It,” from which the album draws its title, is impossible to move on from without at least three replays. Lyrically and in mood, it reminds me of Elliott Smith’s “King’s Crossing” as both Smith and Alejandro Skalany are searching for reasons not to be fatally drastic. “Make Up Your Mind” is a powerful and whippet-like slow-mo reverberating wall of sound that feels like what would have happened if Pavement had developed a heroin addiction. Immediately after that sensory assault, Pope lulls you back to a comfort zone with “Slice,” a surprisingly early-Shins-like pop number. This record is for fans of being miserable, and it’s perfect in that way. — Kevin Barrios


Brooklyn noise-pop duo Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller, otherwise known as Sleigh Bells, just keep on refining their sound with each release. They dropped their fifth studio album, Kid Kruschev, last month, and the record is an impressive and fitting extension of their previous work, which has dynamically enthralled fans since 2010. On tracks like “Favorite Transgression” and “Panic Drills,” Krauss’ vocals powerfully command and motivate you to keep listening. Sleigh Bells seems to be venturing in and out of a punk-noise sound that alternates between moments of heavy guitar and its dreamy remnants. On tracks like “Rainmaker,” the group utilizes obsessive, spooky underlying beats to absolutely enchant the listener. Kid Kruschev even puts the group’s raw side on full display with the sentimentally-driven acoustic track, “Florida Thunderstorm,” which acts as a confessional for Krauss. It’s exciting to see Sleigh Bells consistently evolve, building intricate quilts of sound that delectably supplement beloved previous releases like Treats and Jessica Rabbit. —Maeve Holler


After a couple of Bandcamp tracks, local indie-pop act Sweater Creep now offer their debut EP Red! While the band appropriately lists influences like Grizzly Bear and the Velvet Underground, the luxurious, electronics-tinged guitar pop on this release brings to mind Orange Juice. I expect that Sweater Creep’s post-punk throwback is more a flattering coincidence than hero worship, though. Despite Red’s very short length, the band—with producer and session drummer Mike Saladis (Donovan Wolfington)—offer a compelling, bite-sized sampler of their melancholic, oily artistic palette. The title track rises as the star of the sampler for taking enough time to build a spacey groove and realizing its psychedelia by changing dynamics near the end. Fans of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, check it out! —Ben Miotke


Everyone knows about the Teaches of Peaches, but do you also know about the Visions of Valerie? Like the worldly and provocative Peaches, New Orleans’ own Valerie Sassyfras—once renowned as the entertainer-supreme of Piccadilly’s lunch hours—is a one-woman electrostorm of genre-blending performance art and music. With this latest release, Valerie departs not only planet Earth, but her sultry, sexy-fun-time persona of 2016’s Sassquake. Aided by slick, bass-friendly production, Blast Off! is a fun romp through the galaxy, equal parts David Bowie and Spaceballs. Don’t let track titles like “Women R From Venus—Men R From Mars” deceive you into thinking this is a novelty or joke album—though even if you did you might still find the chorus lodged firmly in your brain. Blast Off! has all the nuance and complexity of an iconic children’s book, or the blue-collar, all ages mood of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Tunes range from honky-tonk and disco to psychedelia in flavor, but never stray from the cosmic concept. The album closer “Cocktail Waitress in Outer Space” is classic Sassyfras, proving you can take the woman out of Louisiana—millions of miles even—but you can’t take Louisiana out the woman. —Dan Fox


Cedarphon’s first release sat in Domino Sound’s “Lebanon” section for at least a year before disappearing, and is now largely unavailable online due to both selling out and the label’s disregard for legal compiling procedures. For their disregard, their second release, Egypt & Lebanon, also doesn’t have any detailed credits to the performers or assurance that they are being compensated. This is unfortunate but, as compilations often go, clearing every song and paying royalties would have taken years longer and produced a release certainly less likely to fulfill the label’s aspiration to compile searing Arabic disco bangers. Unofficially, it fully delivers with each song. The energy level almost never dips below “exuberant” and is particularly exciting for the more complex, kinetic atmosphere that regional hand drum, reed, organ, and string arrangements impart. This becomes cosmic through synth flourishes that meld wonderfully with the organ and would fit just as well in early European space rock. This is a pretty singular opportunity to enjoy the very best of this niche that is as universally enjoyable as any of its individual parts and won’t be available for too long! See if you can catch the organ lick that would reappear years later on a Mr. Bungle song. —Ben Miotke


Welcome To Paradise is a total statement of the Italian dream house niche. Beyond DJ Asic’s Saturday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. show on WTUL, I’ve been pretty out of touch with house for a few years. But grabbing both volumes on a whim, Vol. 1 makes it very clear from opener “Calypso of House (Paradise Mix)” that isn’t an issue. The usual house beat goes party-hopping with Italian pop’s fixation on beauty, starting in the Mediterranean and somehow ending up in the Caribbean. There’s a whiff of cheesy exotica here: Europeans reconfiguring exotic and tropical musical codes, but framed by the much greater restraint and Italian musical idea of beauty. It seems more polite and appreciative. Vol. 1 continuously displays the sound’s peaks with harder dancefloor tracks and Vol. 2 seems to pull more atmospheric, deep house-like comedown tracks. Overall, Welcome to Paradise is a great collection of early dance music that gently makes sure you enjoy yourself on the eternally sunny beach of its sounds. It offers extra charm from the minimalistic English vocal performances, dispensing the most choice catchwords (sex, paradise, love, paranoia) in truly dreamy dance music. —Ben Miotke


Pacific Daydream is 2017’s sad, twisted version of Weezer. The eleventh studio album from the famed pop-punk group, it definitely sets some high expectations for tried-and-true fans. But unfortunately, it doesn’t rise to join the ranks of highly lauded albums like Pinkerton. On tracks like “Feels Like Summer” and “Happy Hour,” the almost unrecognizable voice of frontman Rivers Cuomo sings tacky, overdone lines like “I need a happy hour on my sad days / It’s my happy hour—I can’t wait,” and “I’m holding on and I don’t want to let you go / It feels like summer to me.” With Pacific Daydream, the days of Weezer’s quirky, unconventional sound are officially over, and it seems like the band has tailored its sound to fade into the background of millennial hodge-podge. Prior to the album’s release, even Cuomo was quoted as saying, “It’s going to maybe be like the Beach Boys gone bad,” which regrettably seems fitting. Weezer hasn’t really withstood the test of time, and Pacific Daydream is a sure sign of their devolution. —Maeve Holler



In Lisa Ko’s debut novel, social issues enhance the burden of family responsibility, illuminating the devastating consequences of abandonment—whether by one’s mother or government. For undocumented Chinese mother Polly Guo and her American son, Deming, New York’s labyrinthine streets and colorful neighborhoods provide an imperfect new home, their family the true refuge. That is, until the day Polly goes to work and never comes home. Deming, age 11, is completely shaken by his mother’s disappearance. Struggling with questions of fault and doubts surrounding her whereabouts, Deming is put into foster care. He is given a new name, moved upstate to a white suburban community, and eventually adopted by two older professors. As Deming Guo slowly and painfully transforms into Daniel Wilkinson, he traverses the challenges of leaving behind everything he has ever known—and with that, any hope of his mother returning. The same abandonment is cast in a different light from the perspective of his mother, Polly. An ambitious and complex person, a selfish yet eternally sacrificing mother, she is a woman caught between the borders of her sprawling dreams and anchoring banalities. A resonating, timely debut novel, The Leavers is an award-winning story of resilience through absence. —Tera Durrio



Fans of L7 can rejoice over this brutally honest look into the band’s past, present, and future. Director Sarah Price (American Movie, The Carrie Diaries) did an amazing job compiling rare photos, unseen live footage, television and film appearances, and the band’s own video archives into a chronological story that leaves the viewer shook. Recent audio interviews offer a humble depiction of each band member’s fond memories and regrets. From their inception in 1985 to their initial breakup in 2001, Pretend We’re Dead gets down to the nitty-gritty and examines the struggles they faced always being categorized as an “all girl band,” how they dealt with major label creative restrictions, and the battles they fought with their own personal demons. Though the tone can be fairly dark at times, the film is also a total blast. Hilarious footage of their antics while in the studio and touring shows that despite their tough image, a lot of fun was had while staying true to their punk aesthetic. The raw footage of singer/guitarist Donita Sparks chucking her used tampon at the Reading Festival audience in 1992 proves that when under negative scrutiny, this was a band that was going to shove back. Praiseful interviews with Joan Jett, Lydia Lunch, and Krist Novoselic round things out nicely, and closing out the film with the 2015 reunion of the classic lineup gave me chills. —Bill Heintz

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