REVIEWS


CICADA
SORCERER’S ORPHANS
(SELF-RELEASE)

On their debut album, local rockers Cicada succeed in translating their tight, bluesy live sound into a psychedelic experience that illuminates the band’s psych and prog pedigree. Guitarist Roxy LeBlanc takes full advantage of the studio’s multitrack recording capability, layering lead riffs and spacey overdubs until the self-described power trio sound like they could be a quintet. The rhythm section—Hannah Schaeffer on drums, Bayley Crow on bass—stay largely in the pocket, giving Sorcerer’s Orphans a steady but powerful feel, even on slower songs like the elegant “Squeeze.” A Brian Jonestownian guitar riff propels lead single “Changeling,” which features some of LeBlanc’s most passionate singing. LeBlanc sounds fantastic throughout, especially when harmonizing with Crow, as on “21st Century.” Engineer Shane Avrard (The Noise Complaints) deftly mixes LeBlanc and Crow’s vocals, utilizing various effects and automation without being heavy-handed. Orphans closes with perhaps its best song, the charming “Metamorphosis,” which highlights all of Cicada’s strengths: propulsive pocket drumming, phasey guitar textures, easy hooks, beautiful singing, and an unhurried pace that luxuriates in the groove. —Nick Pope

FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB
BANDANA
(KEEP COOL/RCA)

Also known as MadGibbs, the pairing of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib is an intense flurry, with Gibbs’ jerking rhymes and nimble flow colliding with Madlib’s articulate and eccentric beat tinkering. Bandana is no exception, picking up where the duo left off on their 2014 release, Piñata. Both artists claim they are the peak of malleability, as Madlib can turn any sample into a beat and Gibbs can rap over anything. Tracks “Half Manne Half Cocaine” and “Crime Pays” map the push and pull of the record’s succession. The first half of “Half Manne…” features a twitching beat underneath Gibbs’s raunchy verse. The second half turns on itself with a heavy back beat as Gibbs answers confidently, turning on his own flow as well: “sit your five dollar ass down before I make change,” he sings. “Crime Pays” is aesthetically very different, focusing more on a grooving beat centered around an obscure sample. It’s far less aggressive lyrically, pandering to Madlib fans. It’s clear on this record that the team aims to venture deeper into each other’s worlds, seeing as how the songs highlight each other’s strengths and feature other popular names like Pusha T on “Palmolive” and Anderson .Paak on “Giannis.” Even as more of a Madlib fan personally, I don’t find the beats to be the most impressive aspect of the record. Perhaps that’s the mark of a rapper, but Gibbs’ talent is immense. However, I can appreciate the focus Madlib takes to provide a canvas strong enough to hold the weight and strength of Gibbs’ presence without either artist having to compromise their own style. —Robert Landry

TREADLES
COLD / IRON
(SADDLE CREEK)

Once a sad solo acoustic folk project, local act Treadles has now found its identity as an experimental rock band. In recent years, members of Treadles have also contributed to the work of New Orleans’ most prolific recluses: Sharks’ Teeth, Baton Rouge metal nerds Thou, and the enthusiastic Chicago mopers in Ratboys. Although these two songs are just now making their debut, both of them stem from late 2016, when singer and guitarist KC Stafford was just beginning to expand Treadles into a full band project. Both “Cold” and “Iron” come from songwriting collaborations between Stafford and Rick Maguire of the cult indie band Pile. While Maguire’s influence can vaguely be felt on the tunes, these recordings are distinctly Treadles. As always, Stafford’s songs continue to be tender and honest reflections of emotions that plague the human experience. On “Iron,” they explore feelings of yearning and loss. “Cold” is an ode to anxiety and the attempted repression of detrimental thoughts. The tune starts out with whimsical, melodic guitar and calm synth parts before slowly growing into a collision of noisy distortion and pounding drums. “Try not to think about it,” sings Stafford, joined in a screaming call-and-response by bassist Rustle Pants during the song’s most intense sections. —William Archambeault

TYCHO
WEATHER
(NINJA TUNE)

Weather is the fifth album from Tycho, the electronic pursuit of Scott Hansen. It follows the album trilogy of Dive, Awake, and Epoch. After Epoch’s 2017 Grammy nomination for best Dance/Electronic album, it’s safe to say Hansen has found a comfort zone in his expanding melodic soundscapes. Weather, in most cases, capitalizes on that success with one notable addition: vocals. Vocals are usually the determining factor in the differentiation between contemporary pop music and techno music, but Hannah Cottrell, known as Saint Sinner, makes a vocal guest appearance, settling comfortably into the compositions without distracting from Hansen’s typically instrumental output. On “Easy,” established fans won’t be surprised to hear twirling synth melodies layered over oscillating basslines and precise drumwork—so typical of Tycho—with delicate sirens from Cottrell. “Pink & Blue” and “Japan” hit with more deliberate vocals and lyrics, but are not too much of a diversion for the die-hard fans that might be apprehensive of the vocal addition. However, “Skate” and “No Stress” are new territory that don’t sound inherently Tycho, yet still offer the same ethereal layering. “Into The Woods” and “Weather,” the only instrumentals on the album, sound a bit like leftovers from Epoch. Tycho is meticulous and polished, but it’s unclear if vocals alone are enough to breathe new life into the music. —Robert Landry

WINO WILLY
BURLAP
(SUPERJOCK/BAG SEASON)

If you’re jonesing for some good old-fashioned smog-shrouded East Coast hip-hop (yet made here in New Orleans), seek out this latest cassette—encased in a deep, golden plastic—from Wino Willy. (And seek the physical tape you must, because the album is only available online in snippets.) Producer-turned frontman Wino Willy has taken a circuitous route to find himself in New Orleans. He grew up in the Jersey-Philly area before taking off for China, where he broadened his horizons in the Beijing and Shanghai underground hip-hop scenes before returning to the States. In addition to joining the ranks of New Orleans’ small but dedicated “head” style hip-hop scene, he currently teaches music production as an Artist in Residence at the Travis Hill School (inside the New Orleans Youth Justice Center). Such a collection of disparate experiences, combined with a crew of collaborators (Prospek, DJ Yamin, deliciousbeets, to name a few), makes Burlap a dense listen, though a pleasant one—as if you were hanging out in some low-lit, smoke-filled back room, very late at night. It’s hard to pick a favorite track since the whole thing kind of drifts from one hypnotic, warbling beat to another, Wino Willy’s raspy delivery gliding above (and in a city saturated with our beloved bounce, it’s always refreshing to see this kind of hip-hop poke its head out). On Side B, Wino Willy gets his friends at the “Serious Rap Sh*t” podcast to roast him, providing welcome comedic relief and a great real-time review of the album, which is definitely not something you hear every day. I’m looking forward to more output from the Bag Season crew. —Dan Fox

VARIOUS ARTISTS
ANN ARBOR BLUES FESTIVAL 1969, VOL 1. & 2
(THIRD MAN)

Third Man Records’ latest release—two volumes of previously unreleased recordings from the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival—might be the most ambitious live blues bootleg of all time. For five decades, blues fans have heavily mysticized the festival’s inaugural year, which featured a who’s who of the genre, including legends like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Some songs on this compilation, such as Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call,” shine through as powerful moments. But many tracks are woefully lo-fi. Various youths made these recordings secretly on a shared Norelco tape recorder. These are field recordings in the most literal sense, and the compilation is a mixed bag because of it. For instance, Luther Allison’s performance is frequently disrupted by audience members’ personal chats, and it is difficult to hear his entire band. “If this were a YouTube video, I would’ve hit skip by now,” remarked my father, a longtime Luther Allison fan, halfway through the guitarist’s cut. This compilation’s strength is in its unparalleled coverage of a festival that has captured the curiosity of blues fans for five decades. Those seeking the best representations of these artists would be better served with other live recordings. Despite the mixed production quality, these recordings are valuable historical documents and a few of them are even true gems. —William Archambeault

VARIOUS ARTISTS
RIFFS FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE
(BLACK FLAGS OVER BROOKLYN)

Riffs for Reproductive Justice is a massive collection of unreleased metal and punk music that benefits the National Network of Abortion Funds and the Yellowhammer Fund. This immense outpouring of support makes for a marathon listen: 33 bands contribute over three hours of music, ranging from minimalistic acoustic sorrow to intense metal fury. Emma Ruth Rundle conjures oblique emotions with her unaccompanied demo version of “Dead Set Eyes.” “Birds of Prey” is an intimate and entrancing song from Wax Idols’ member Heather Fortune. Multiple bands like False and Vile Create contribute tracks that go over ten minutes, making them epic in the literal sense. While most of the tunes are originals, a few artists like Redbait and Cliterati cover tunes from the likes of Dead Kennedys and L7. Nirvana worshippers Thou tackle Leadbelly’s “In the Pines,” which reached wider recognition as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged. While Nirvana’s famed rendition is defined by its sparse yet concise acoustic melancholy, this version is a slow, heavy descent into the depths of emotional abyss, spanning a whopping nine minutes. While metal and punk communities are sometimes viewed negatively by outsiders, Riffs for Reproductive Justice proves that these communities can organize and come together for positive change in the world. —William Archambeault

MIDSOMMAR
DIR. ARI ASTER
(SQUARE PEG/B-REEL FILMS)

Midsommar is a dark comedy mislabelled as a horror film, with not much literal darkness, which compelled us to attend because we thought we could wear our sunglasses the whole time. On that merit, the film mostly delivered. The other best thing was the abundance of flowers, which as we all know are scarce evidence of divinity in our hellworld. This is the plot: a grieving young woman accompanies her boyfriend and his friends to a small Swedish village for its summer solstice festival; grisly rituals ensue. It’s impossible not to compare Midsommar to director Ari Aster’s 2018 film Hereditary. Where Hereditary maintained a high level of tension and was nonstop startlecore, Midsommar’s most graphic scenes arrive expertly but predictably timed. Both films exploit visible disability/facial difference as a lazy trope for eerie otherness. Both are oc/culty, but the incredible Toni Collette is only in one of them. Midsommar’s characters lacked her dimension, but to be fair they are either zealots or PhD bros; neither population is known for its depth of individuality. The film mines Nordic religions for motifs in its spooky traditions, which rules during a historical moment where corny fascists are performatively reclaiming their heritage via unattractive facial hair and runes. As a satire of white culture, the film gets a lot right, like how we season our food poorly (with period blood and pubes, for example). The most memorable scenes were of striking pastoral landscapes with ecstatic white-robed women festooned with floral crowns, and one or two sulking bros in the back corner. I’ve heard a few comments about Midsommar repeated widely: “Ladies, don’t see this movie with your boyfriend!” Oh, sorry your boyfriend sucks. “This movie is feminist!” Oh, sorry your feminism is an authoritarian revenge fantasy. “This movie is offensive to people with mental illnesses!” Oh, sucks that this is what you think mental illness is. So, it’s a film that really makes people tell on themselves. Like Hereditary, Midsommar explores family and grief as a site of horror but doesn’t reach its full potential, instead getting lost in the aesthetic sauce. —Beck Levy

SARAH A. SEO
POLICING THE OPEN ROAD: HOW CARS TRANSFORMED AMERICAN FREEDOM
(HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS)

In popular culture, cars are symbols of freedom—the essential ingredient for journeys of self-discovery, escape, or reinvention. But while automobiles did help bring greater autonomy and privacy to many, Seo argues, they also helped usher in a new wave of policing, with officers granted considerable latitude to stop, search, and detain travelers for even minor traffic offenses. As cars quickly became commonplace in the 20th century, police forces rapidly expanded as authorities realized enforcement was necessary to keep people driving safely. Over the decades, despite people seeing cars as part of their personal space, U.S. courts gave officers great discretion during traffic stops—much more than they’d have to search people’s homes or offices. While the intrusions were perhaps most shocking to the white middle class, previously unused to police interaction, they often fell mostly on the poor and people of color. Seo, a University of Iowa law professor, marshals considerable legal and historical research and clear, engaging writing to explore how this all came to be. While she doesn’t offer recommendations on reform, her book still feels like essential reading for anyone considering how policing can be made more equitable and less authoritarian in the future. —Steven Melendez

TED CHIANG
EXHALATION
(ALFRED A. KNOPF)

Ted Chiang’s second anthology is full of the kind of science fiction stories that can be summarized in a single phrase: people get video-recorder implants giving them foolproof memories… an intelligently designed universe proves to be centered around another species… a Victorian child struggles after being raised by a robotic nanny… parrots are secretly really smart. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the genre has long let creative writers carry out thought experiments, and Chiang does it as well as anyone in the field, exploring Black Mirror-esque themes of networking, AI, and human augmentation the way earlier authors probed space travel and teleportation. But his strongest stories are those that give his characters room to be more than game pieces moved about to play out this argument about humanity and technology. Pay special attention to “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” which follows a group of sentient video game AIs and the humans who raise them, and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a tightly woven, Arabian Nights-influenced look at time travel and free will that’s really about love, grief, and the quite ordinary passage of time. —Steven Melendez

 

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