On album-opener “Fixture Picture,” a breathy solo gives way to a rockin’ harmonious chorus as Aldous Harding ushers in a new era of ensemble sound. 2017’s Party was lonely—when performed live, it was just Hanna “Aldous” Harding, her many vocal masks, and keyboardist Jared Samuel (Invisible Familiars). Discovered as a busker in her homeland of New Zealand and performing folk and bluegrass early in her career, she was picked up by 4AD following her debut album. The independent British recording label, known for its post-punk releases, brought Aldous together with producer John Parish, a longtime PJ Harvey collaborator. Widely anticipated, Designer finds Harding redefined as a five-piece band. The sound is spacious in tracks that bring moments of surprise, thanks to woodwinds, congas, and a Nashville guitar, all influenced by the modern freak folk of the British Isles. Still, the most transfixing element is the vocal precision of bandleader Harding, who disconcertingly distorts her face and throat to achieve wildly dissimilar voices, from wispy soprano to contralto growling, molasses slow to mockingly shrill. While the Aldous Harding sound is mellow and quiet, the emotional intensity of Aldous’ performance calls in thrill-seeking listeners. —Nora Maria Fuller


For their final album, All People get deeply personal. Greg Rodrigue and Daniel Ray (co-founders of local DIY label Community Records) split vocal duties, each bringing their own perspective to lyrics detailing mental health struggles, internal gender fluidity, and love, with these messages strengthened by the band’s tight musicianship. Drummer [and ANTIGRAVITY Associate Editor] Robert Landry’s solid and precise rhythms serve as the backbone to these explorations. This is the group’s second album to feature Josh Campbell, whose sharp, flowing guitar parts have become an integral part of All People’s sound. Although the group originally started as a dub-influenced punk band, it has since grown to create its own type of post-punk defined by a deft combination of keyboards and guitars. On “Dream of Love” and “Know for Now,” Ray also adds tasteful trombone melodies on top of the band’s rolling soundscapes. Closer “Interlude pt. 2” is a catchy keyboard-driven instrumental, swelling with bouncy synth bass and hypnotic repetition. At every moment, Do This Again Tomorrow feels honest and intimate. With members releasing the record via their own label and Campbell pressing the vinyl himself at New Orleans Record Press, this album is a personal affair on all levels. —William Archambeault


No one writes better songs than Adrianne Lenker. Her sparse, intimate lyrics cut straight to the bone, evoking powerful imagery with an easy grace. Her band, Big Thief, released its third album, U.F.O.F. in May via 4AD. Like their first two records, Masterpiece and Capacity, it is both understated and sweeping, quietly achieving the breadth of a box set in 12 short tracks. On the new record, Lenker pushes her songwriting skills to the next level, often abandoning the traditional verse-chorus structure for slow-burning poetic songs. On opener “Contract,” she sings about a mysterious woman named Jodi who “is both dreamer and dream.” Later, on standout “Century,” she paints pictures of “dogs eyes in the headlights on the driveway” and “moth flies in the window of your kitchen,” images both commonplace and haunting. Guitarist Buck Meeks, bassist Max Oleartchik, and drummer James Krivchenia treat her songs with the utmost care, providing folk arrangements that are never folksy. Like Joanna Newsom at her most stripped down, Big Thief makes disarmingly simple music that gets better with each listen. Raphael Helfand


There’s a rumor going around that black midi is an industry plant. Two members of the genre-bending, guitar-centric British foursome are still teenagers, and the other two are only 20. They met just a few years ago at the acclaimed BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology (the institution famous for churning out pop stars such as Adele and Kate Nash), and they’ve barely released any music. Yet somehow, they’ve already scored a Pitchfork interview and a KEXP session, signed with premier indie label Rough Trade, and backed legendary vocalist Damo Suzuki live. One listen to black midi’s debut album, Schlagenheim (out June 21) dispels any doubts about the band’s qualifications. From the chaotic crash of opener “953” to the measured crescendo of closer “Ducter,” there isn’t a single misstep. The music is heavy—noisy at times—but incredibly precise. Drummer Morgan Simpson hammers out beats hard enough to cut diamond, and Cameron Picton finishes them with deceptively simple basslines. Above the driving rhythms, guitarists Gordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin battle it out, playing off each other’s intricate licks until they erupt into dual supernovae. Greep adds sardonic, nasally vocals reminiscent of early PiL-era Johnny Rotten, completing the vast noise puzzle. Schlagenheim is one of the best albums of 2019, and black midi is the most exciting new rock band around. Raphael Helfand


Since the late ‘80s, Steve Halprin has delivered hard rock that’s polished enough for Metairie sports bars while simultaneously remaining relevant in New Orleans’ grimier garage scene. First with Geographic Tongue, a band that—legend has it—narrowly missed mainstream exposure when a demo found its way to an impressed Kim Fowley; and now with Death Ed., featuring Halprin’s son Brad (Dr. Halprinstein, Melville Dewys) on drums and longtime collaborator Chuck Diesel on bass. Death Ed. avoids the forgettable fate of so many starry-eyed regional rock bands by employing the same tongue-in-cheek approach that earned Mudhoney the Seattle indie-cred crown: exaggerating masculine aggression and amplifying oversexed rock tropes into absurd parody. Though sometimes it’s tough to gauge just how ironically they don the trucker hat. If there’s some nuance or double meaning that makes “She’s a Big One” more than a callow body-shaming anthem, then I missed it. Lyrics aside, this EP sounds huge, a saturated melee of crunching guitars and pounding drums, with Halprin belting classic rock hooks over deep sludge grooves. Neck-choking, dissonant solos and bookending pitch shifts—the final one bringing “Conspiracy Theory Beard” to an abrupt halt—complete the effect. Michael Kunz

DK 40

DK 40 celebrates 40 years since the release of the Dead Kennedys’ debut 7”. For the occasion, the band (sans singer Jello Biafra) has compiled three different live shows: two from December 1982 and one from May 1985. The most powerful of these three sets is their December 13, 1982 appearance in Munich, Germany. The band tears through their eccentric brand of hardcore punk with top-tier craftsmanship. Performing shortly after the release of Plastic Surgery Disasters, that show is a solid mixture of the largely chaotic work they had released up to that point. Biafra even localizes “Too Drunk to Fuck” by inserting quotes from a drinking song by German schlager singer Heino. Devout DK fans will recognize this show as a repackaged version of the popular A Skateboard Party bootleg. Attentive listeners can even hear the occasional crackle of a vinyl record, suggesting the band lifted the recording right off of an old copy of the boot. While the minimalistic artwork may lead listeners to question if this is an unsanctioned release, DK 40 is official. Manifesto has been the band’s home ever since their well-documented legal battle with Biafra and his label Alternative Tentacles. This collection of sanctioned bootlegs will likely be popular with longtime fans, but newcomers should probably listen to the studio albums before diving into DK40. —William Archambeault


You can’t always judge an album by its cover, but the art for Ekumen’s self-titled debut is a pretty good indicator of what lies inside. Pageninetynine vocalist Cris Crude’s dark depiction of late science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin establishes a feeling of unease that sums up Ekumen’s mature hardcore punk. Ekumen lifts song titles—and even their very name—from the seminal writer’s works. Although Le Guin’s sci-fi is a major inspiration for the band, their lyrics primarily focus on the struggles of navigating adulthood. In a tour diary for ANTIGRAVITY in 2017, the band describes itself as “comprised of post-quarter-life-crisis adults.” Their material reflects this identity. On opener “Nearreal,” their singer—credited simply as A—shouts “Too young to die, too old to care!” Similarly, songs like “Kemmer” and “Beldene” tackle the day-to-day monotony of adult life, desk jobs included. Some songs get more topical; on “Shifgrethor,” the singer directly addresses the hypocrisy of those who refuse to believe victims of assault; and the lyrics for “Handarra” turn that song into a raging anti-gentrification anthem. Ekumen’s dynamic writing and skronk guitars help separate them from the sometimes bludgeoning sound that dominates harcore. Closer “Odonianism” starts as an eerie slow burn before bursting forth with the band’s final outpouring of emotion. —William Archambeault


L.A. punk four-piece French Vanilla broke into the public consciousness in 2017 with an explosive, self-titled debut. Its standout second track, “Carrie,” reprises the story of Sissy Spacek’s title character in the 1976 Brian De Palma cult classic. The song’s best lyric is “Carrie had her period in the shower / Carrie had her period and everyone laughed at her / You’re a woman now, Carrie.” Fronted by the sardonically bubbly Sally Spitz, French Vanilla also comprises guitarist Alli Day, drummer Greg Shilton, and bassist Daniel Trautfield (who plays boisterous, percussive saxophone on about half the band’s songs as well). How Am I Not Myself (out June 7) feels like the group’s first record, if you pumped it full of steroids and put it on circus stilts. Spitz’ lyrics are less immediately caustic and more accessible. Trautfield’s sax playing is even louder and often borders on risky ska-punk territory. The album as a whole has a slightly goofier, more welcoming vibe. It would be misguided to say French Vanilla has lost its edge, but if they were to hone their knives a bit sharper next time around, the cuts might go deeper. —Raphael Helfand


This Zappa-inspired blend of satire and virtuosity chronicles Seattle transplant Tristan Gianola’s frustrations as a working musician. It opens with “Tip Bucket,” a hot take on the Frenchmen scene, where a field recording of a second line is drowned out by a nu-metal remake of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Meant to lampoon audience pandering, it comes off as cynical, and will probably make some natives roll their eyes. “Ukelele,” the only other song with words, is genuinely funny. Its simple refrain of “fuck ukulele” combined with the imagery of “old white men” who love “little girls in cute flower dresses” paints a vivid picture featuring the cursed instrument. The remaining instrumentals couldn’t be more of a departure from all this crass humor. “Melodia” recalls the droning Eastern vibe of ‘60s acid wave, while “Bush & Hendricks” would fit well on Woodenhead’s latest release (Live at Chickie Wah Wah). Throughout the album, heavy blues riffs turn on a dime into ambient soundscapes and calypso interludes, somehow accomplished with a three-piece rock arrangement. As an unhinged fusion record, it’s a resounding success. As a commercial product, it’s hit-or-miss. The shout-rapped joke songs may alienate the jazz crowd, only to attract a shallower audience that can’t appreciate the sophisticated genre tweaking. —Michael Kunz


With their 28th release in 35 years, Shonen Knife is still going strong. Osaka’s reigning all-girl pop-punk trio serves up another entry into their colorful catalog of cheerful melodies and saccharine lyrics. This time around, though, they display a little more stylistic and dynamic range. It’s as though they sought not only to encompass highlights from throughout their career, but to also venture into previously uncharted territory with their songwriting. This is especially evident in the somewhat somber-sounding tune, “My Independent Country,” and the slower, almost dreamy, “Never-Never Land.” For longtime fans, never fear: the tried-and-true influences are still present, ranging from punk to surf, ‘60s girl groups to modern alt-rock. The first single, “Dizzy,” already has a video online, and it feels like classic Shonen Knife. “Party” is very heavily Ramones-inspired. And of course, it wouldn’t be Shonen Knife without a couple of quirky odes to culinary delights, such as the fun romping title track and “Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches,” a song sweet enough to give you diabetes. It’s nearly impossible to stay in a bad mood while listening to an album like Sweet Candy Power. —Jenn Attaway


Steph Chura has a uniquely smoldering voice. It doesn’t smolder in a melodramatic way like Lana del Rey’s, or in a small, quiet way like Jessica Pratt’s. It’s a gritty, uneven smoldering, like kindling crackling in a nascent campfire. Chura’s debut, Messes (2017), was written and recorded after the death of a close friend. It’s emotionally wrenching but somewhat patchy; and Chura’s voice is at times unintelligible, snuffed out by its own smoky shadow. She fixes both issues on this follow-up, Midnight (out June 7). Recruiting Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo for production (as well as a vocal appearance on the single “Sweet Sweet Midnight”), Chura polishes her sound just enough to make her message clearer, but never to the point where it loses its natural grit. Her lyrics, pushed to the surface this time around, are simple but hard-hitting, like on opener “All I Do is Lie,” when she repeats “If you do it to me, I don’t care / I can do it to you, I can do it to you too” as the song crescendos and collapses in on itself. Overall, the album is a big step forward for one of the most interesting vocalists in indie rock. —Raphael Helfand


Tim Heidecker, a master of irony and perhaps the funniest person on the planet, has now made two earnest rock albums. Even before the first (In Glendale) came out in 2016, Heidecker had established himself as a musician and songwriter. In his various TV projects—from Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job! to the more recent Decker/On Cinema universe—he’s sprinkled in absurd but surprisingly well-crafted joke songs, creating fictional yet prolific groups such as the hard-rocking Dekkar, the Cajun-influenced Pusswhip Banggang, and the urine-dedicated Yellow River Boys. The headline, then, is not that Heidecker can play—it’s that he can take himself seriously when he’s out of character. What The Brokenhearted Do… (out June 7) is all about divorce, though Heidecker is still happily married to his wife. The record’s initial inspiration allegedly came from a Twitter rumor that his wife had left him, started by a faction of former fans who’ve been tormenting him online ever since he came out vocally and unironically against Trump during the 2016 election cycle. But despite this bizarre background, Heidecker treats his subject matter with gravitas, inhabiting the character of a broken divorcé as fully as he inhabits his comic personas. The music itself, indebted to the plainspoken songwriting of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, never feels fresh or exciting, as Heidecker’s comedy always does. Still, it’s engaging, listenable and, at times, deeply moving. —Raphael Helfand


On Metal Swim 2, Adult Swim gathers unreleased recordings from some of the most compelling forces in metal. Sunn O))), The Body, and Oathbreaker are just a few of the notable contributors on this compilation. While this release leans heavily on American groups, contributors like Brazilian thrash metal band Nervosa and Iranian black metal group Akvan illustrate the genre’s geographic diversity. Eyehategod and Andy Gibbs (of Thou) represent New Orleans. “Three Black Eyes” is a monumental recording for Eyehategod on multiple fronts. It is their first to feature current drummer Aaron Hill, who joined after Joey LaCaze’s passing in 2013. Since the group has also parted ways with longtime guitarist Brian Patton, this marks the debut of their downsized four-piece configuration. Aided by excessive amounts of recent touring, the sludge veterans are more precise than ever. On “Sounding Stair,” Andy Gibbs collaborates with former Agoraphobic Nosebleed singer Kat Katz. The singer intensely screams over Gibb’s hypnotically sparse electronic backdrop, creating an eerie sense of melancholy. The contrast caused by the song’s ambient sections make the tune’s heaviness all the more powerful. While this is most likely just a one-off collaboration, the duo sound like they would make a great addition to a sweaty show at the Mudlark Public Theatre. From São Paulo to New Orleans, Metal Swim 2 showcases some of the best that metal has to offer. —William Archambeault


After the phenomenal success of To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee famously went decades without releasing any other major work. But that wasn’t for lack of trying: Lee spent years researching and attempting to write a nonfiction book about Will Maxwell, a Black preacher from rural Alabama who was widely believed to have killed multiple relatives for life insurance money, before being murdered himself. The book would have harnessed reporting skills Lee honed while researching and conducting interviews with Truman Capote for what became his true crime classic In Cold Blood. It also would have given Lee a second stab at exploring racial and social issues in her native Alabama after some critics argued Mockingbird took too simplistic an approach. Writing a book about someone else failing to write a book doesn’t sound like an easy task, but Casey Cep proves more than up to the job. She explores Lee’s own story and the story she set out to tell, profiling Maxwell and the prominent attorney Tom Radney, who at times defended both Maxwell and his killer. Thanks to Cep’s captivating writing, lengthy asides on subjects like the history of life insurance prove fascinating rather than annoying. —Steven Melendez


Timothy Duffy’s Blue Muse is an exhibition of tintypes displayed salon-style in a small, gray passage on the second floor of NOMA. These are portraits—mostly in close up—of musicians in the American south. The black and white images show faces in a deep range of values, and many of them prominently feature the hands of their subjects. It feels like a reminder that there are human authors of American culture, and that traditional music does not spring fully formed from the earth but has been lovingly cultivated by individuals. The portraits are often playful and convey a warm sense of personal connection. The exhibition continues outside the museum in a series of five banners installed around the city. I went to look at the one on the wall of Terranova’s Supermarket, which depicts Little Freddie King. It is very nice, but the whole situation feels somewhat lopsided. The banners are spread out all over town at seemingly random locations, while the tintypes in NOMA are clumped together in a back hallway so closely that the shadows of the frames overlap. This exhibit either isolates the work or gives it too little room to breathe, but that unevenness does not diminish the charm of these images. On view until July 28. —Harriet Burbeck

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