After the loss of his son Arthur, Nick Cave released the stripped down and cathartic 2016 album Skeleton Tree. Only slightly further into understanding such a loss, we have Ghosteen. Nearly all of the songs on this double LP are over four minutes, some knocking on the door of 15. Cave describes this record as “a migrating spirit,” also adding that the songs on part one are “the children” and part two are “the parents.” Album opener “Spinning Song” is a stunner that indeed spins a twisted yarn alluding to Elvis “The King,” but also to Priscilla Presley. This symbolism is haunting and feels like a mask for Cave to work under while considering his own career, relationships, and mortality. He lilts, “Peace will come in time. A time will come for us” as a choir of voices cradles his words, almost turning it into a prayer. A chiming bell tolls in the rhythm of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” on “Night Raid,” a reminder that we are, all of us, not long for this world. The title track has a riveting arrangement with gravitas not unlike David Bowie’s ambient material on 1977’s Low. Synths drone with double bass and create a vast atmosphere. Warren Ellis’ production and arrangements are spacious and reflect some of his work with Cave on film scores like The Road, Lawless, and The Proposition. Ghosteen is a triumph and testament to the evolution of artistry through tribulation. —Emily Elhaj


Chalk this up as another win for Chicago’s own Common (formerly known as Common Sense). By the second track, he shouts out deceased producer J Dilla, whose repertoire and legend live on with “HER Love,” a smart sequel to “I Used To Love H.E.R.” from Common’s 1994’s seminal album Resurrection. This recommitment to hip-hop (featuring crooner Daniel Caesar) is sure to satisfy fans of both old and new school Common. Let Love is his first full-length since 2016’s Black America Again. The album was inspired by his revealing memoir, Let Love Have the Last Word, which was released back in May. Bringing the familiar crew of Karriem Riggins on production and drums, Samora Pinderhughes on keyboards and vocals, and Burniss Travis on bass, this album is texturally similar to Common’s previous two albums. Boom-bap drums, acoustic bass, and choral arrangements work together in glorious stride. Outside of a soft spot with “Fifth Story”—a cautionary tale which rhymes around food, basketball stars, and the Russia scandal—Let Love is lean and focused. A standout track is “Forever Your Love,” which features BJ The Chicago Kid. Channeling D’Angelo’s phrasing and soul, BJ is not to be overlooked. “Show Me That You Love” is arguably the album’s best track, a story about an absent though remorseful father talking to his daughter. Jill Scott’s vocal contribution on this track is astounding, rich, and sincere. Hip-Hop in its Essence is Real. —Emily Elhaj


There has been much discussion over the stories behind DIIV’s third full-length album, Deceiver. Their sound is still distinctly DIIV, an amalgamation of shoegaze, grunge, and eclectic influences such as Malian guitar music. Since their 2012 debut Oshin, the band members have collectively and individually undergone trauma and turmoil, experiences which inform their music both technically and lyrically. Deceiver is an attempt to process trauma, both internal and external, without knowing if the future holds anything better. Opening track “Horsehead” is a mix of classic shoegaze and grunge with elements of the Danish band Mew. It’s a lot to unpack: “Horsehead / It’s never quite enough / I wanna breathe in / And never breathe back out.” “The Spark,” with a more upbeat melody, may not be exactly optimistic, but it does offer the possibility of better things: “Letting go, the lines we tow / Surrender what we thought we know / Letting go, the lines we tow / Tending to the spark up close.” Though a beautiful album, Deceiver does get bogged down in its own heaviness at times. The future may be uncertain, but hopefully this will become less of an issue as they continue to process their lives and channel this introspection and self-awareness into an increasingly mature and nuanced sound. —Mary Beth Campbell


Taking their name from surrealist artist Man Ray, English trio Girl Ray are evolving. In 2017, they were teenagers just finding their footing. When it came to music, however, they had complete confidence. Channeling the production of Todd Rundgren and the twee spirit of Belle and Sebastian, their debut Earl Grey was excellently understated and showed intrigue and promise. Their sophomore album, Girl, was recorded in a Margate studio named Electric Beach with Ash Workman (Christine And The Queens, Metronomy). Lead single “Show Me More” is as infectious as the songs on their debut were, but fleshed out with a bigger pop sound consisting of synthesizers, their signature clean guitar, and a delightful one-note solo that sinks into the latter half of the track like the sun at dusk. Pushing themselves into these uncharted waters takes a lot of courage and the music reflects that. This is an exciting album coming from a band experiencing real expansion. —Emily Elhaj


One glance at the grotesque artwork for this album gives you a good idea of what to expect from Goura. On their debut, the local metal band launches a full-on assault. Mike Karayane’s deep guttural roars are front and center, an emotive display of agony at every turn. The band’s furious drumming and speedy guitar riffage match Karayane’s performance to create some of the sharpest metal to come out of New Orleans in recent years. The band actualizes their distinct vision for intense music by drawing from a variety of styles, such as grind, hardcore, and post-rock. Most of the songs, such as “Ceremonial” and “Crux,” are vigorous beatdowns that don’t let up for a single moment. On intro “In the Doldrum” and the interlude “Laiden Tongues,” guitarist Mike Saucier leans especially heavily into his post-rock tendencies. Those two short, atmospheric guitar instrumentals provide a much welcomed contrast to Goura’s typical attack, which in turn elevates the ferocious impact of the other songs. —William Archambeault


Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard is out on her own. Recording Jaime after a trip from Nashville to Topanga, California, she makes it clear this venture is one of self-expression. Though Jaime is also her late sister’s name, the experiences represented over the album’s eleven songs are deeply personal. Jaime is meant to help shed a few layers and prepare Howard for the rest of her career. Howard says she asked herself, “What do I want the rest of my life to look like? Do I do something that’s scarier for me? Do I want people to understand me… tell them my story? I’m very private but my favorite work is when people are being honest and really doing themselves.” In that spirit, “Georgia” recalls a childhood crush on an unaware older friend. This feeling is relatable; however, she sensed it needed to be hidden. The lyrics hesitate, “Is it unnatural? Georgia, is it cool?” The ear-catching and outstanding “He Loves Me” contemplates her relationship with religion as an out, woman of color. With a funk swagger similar to Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” this song serves as a secular but reverent statement on her faith and devotion. “Run To Me” sounds like it came straight from First Avenue in Minneapolis—a venue at which Prince played regularly and even recorded parts of “Purple Rain.” The drama unfurls in operatic fashion, the synths wheeze, and the drum machine clips out a creeping rhythm. Producer and keys player Robert Glasper is featured on the album and adds his virtuosity and creativity to the lush landscape. At a tight 35 minutes, the only complaint here is that the album isn’t longer. —Emily Elhaj


It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Elizabeth Joan Kelly is getting the hell out of here. The lo-fi visionary’s apocalyptic nightmare illustrates a world abandoned by a dying sun and overrun by radioactive wolves. The album’s most fun songs are built around rhythmic white noise blasts and chromatic melodies. Sparse lyrical moments chronicle the narrator’s anxieties over leaving Earth, but Kelly mostly stays in her comfort zone, immersed in ominous drones and audio collages. Kelly’s field recordings and found sounds are less altered than in previous releases. The running water on “Whaliens” can trick you into checking the faucet for leaks. In “Departure,” a distant helicopter advances with a stunning crescendo. Bitcrushed MIDI is still the driving musical force, and these tinker toy textures make even the densest chords feel tongue-in-cheek, leaving the intended tone ambiguous. It’s hard to say whether you’re hearing the soundtrack to a cartoonish sci-fi flick or a genuine panic attack sparked by climate change and nuclear proliferation. Perhaps that question will be answered 100 years from now, by a music historian citing this review in a paper—or the amoeba left to govern this barren planet. —Michael Kunz


The lords of loud are back! Over the past quarter century, Lightning Bolt has earned a reputation for intense sonic pummelings that combine harsh metal distortion and free jazz eccentricity. Bassist Brian Gibson and drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale have always put their simple configuration to the utmost use. Sonic Citadel, their first album in five years, sports Lightning Bolt’s most refined songwriting yet. This is both the album’s biggest pro and clearest con. The strong sense of composition gives the tunes a lot of power, but it comes at the loss of the spontaneous free jazz chaos that has come to define their work. A major exception is nine-minute closer “Van Halen 2049,” which is the musical equivalent of being tossed around inside a tornado. Sonic Citadel might be the closest Lightning Bolt ever gets to writing pop songs; yet they show no real signs of becoming any more palatable for the general public. —William Archambeault


On her fifth studio album, Angel Olsen pivots from her minimalist tendencies in order to depict heartache in its most visceral form. All Mirrors weaves in and out of the devastation and growth that time and failed relationships both provide, while the urgent 12-piece string section emphasizes this heartbreak. The album opens with “Lark,” whose strings stretch the track to its limits and suck us into All Mirrors’ all-consuming landscape of unmooring and relocation. Olsen keeps listeners at ease and at bay all at once, mixing discordant symphonic sounds—such as on “New Love Cassette” and “Impasse”—with softer pop-leaning songs like “What It Is” and “Spring.” Olsen’s deep-dive into the breadth of heartache depicts a desperate clawing both away from pain and a gentle settling within the comfort of uncertainty. On the final track, “Chance,” Olsen sings, “I’m not looking for the answer / Or anything like that,” and wraps the album in a perfectly inconclusive bow, showcasing her strongest vocals and songwriting in a triumphant, six-minute finale that leaves listeners comfortably lost. —Marisa Clogher


Midriff has long been a staple of the New Orleans music scene, honing their skills on stages throughout the city, including their own Tunesfest. Beach Pharmacy, the band’s debut full-length album, is the culmination of the work and dedication the band has put into their songs over the past five years. And the amount of effort they’ve expended is apparent. The songs on Beach Pharmacy are best described as psychedelic electronic folk-surf rock. “Vagabond,” the final track, has a spaced-out intro that transitions into a guitar rocker just 18 seconds into the song. “Blister” is a deceptively sunny melody with a chorus that has to be an homage to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” This song is also the darkest on the album: “And the blister in the sun tearing at my skin / Is just a frequent reminder of the world we’re in.” Those two songs aside, the album does suffer from redundancy at points, as though the band is still playing it safe. However, this is a debut—Midriff has plenty of time to innovate and allow their sound to mature and evolve into their full vision. —Mary Beth Campbell


Local collective Sharks’ Teeth has had an astonishingly productive year. Broken Trust in Satan comes after the 2019 releases of two full-lengths, an EP, a single, and an 82 minute volume in their longstanding Wissenschaftslehre series of experimental and ambient works. While Sharks’ Teeth have spent the last decade earning their reputation as a synth band, recent output has further embellished the collective’s sound with the addition of guitar and live drums. Will Hagan’s two minute guitar solo on “It Takes Pressure” stands out as one of the most powerful examples of this recent expansion. Throughout this album, Sharks’ Teeth rides the fine line between soft rock bangers and vibrant experimental soundscapes. Founder Tyler Scurlock remains the group’s chief vocalist, but the collective finds its strength in its free flowing exchange of ideas. Shelby Grosz takes lead vocals on his composition “It Takes Pressure;” and on “Close the Gates,” Scurlock and Matthew Seferian engage in a lengthy philosophical dialogue. Broken Trust in Satan’s release show at One Eyed Jacks on November 8th will be a rare opportunity to watch the recluses transform their studio craft into live music. They have only performed a handful of select shows this year and haven’t appeared live anywhere since early May. —William Archambeault


Singer and guitarist Mike Patton remains one of the most prolific forces to ever come out of Chalmette. Since 2015, his current power pop group Vista Blue has put out around 30 releases, six of which came out this year. Hot on the heels of their Halloween-themed album in October, Patton and company are already back with Hit the Floor!, a three-song 7”. Longtime followers might recognize the A-side “Summer Wonderland” from Patton’s early 2000s project Sally Stitches. Vista Blue recorded this 7” at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where everyone from Big Star to ZZ Top have recorded classic works. The difference between the woefully lo-fi Sally Stitches version and the high fidelity Vista Blue version of “Summer Wonderland” is night and day. Although Mike Patton left Chalmette for Nashville years ago, he still wears local influences on his sleeve. The first B-side is a cover of the Cold’s “Three Chord City,” an upbeat early ‘80s local power pop anthem. Following it is “Big Stars,” a sweet ode to youthful dreams of making it big. While Patton has yet to make it big, he has carved out his niche as a powerful songwriting force. —William Archambeault


At this point, Jeff Tweedy could ride off into the sunset, playing “Jesus, Etc.” for satisfied crowds of 30-somethings every night and patting himself on the back for having strung together a pretty illustrious career. This fact makes a new album from Wilco all the more interesting. These guys don’t need to make new music. They’ve reached the chapter in their story where fresh material needs to be ultra compelling or relevant to really be worthwhile. When stacked against the gems of their deep catalog, Ode to Joy isn’t going to shake up anyone’s Top 10 list, but it’s a solid offering. The intricacies in the musicality on display speak to how firmly gelled the group is, and how amazingly gifted they are as individuals. Glenn Kotche’s drumming shines especially bright, feeling at times like a sparse, distant heartbeat, and at others like an urgent oncoming train. Warm acoustic guitar permeates the record, with just enough Nels Cline freakouts to keep things interesting. Tweedy’s lyrics are, as usual, complex and quite dark, despite the often sunny delivery. “Before Us” levels a real gutpunch: “I remember when wars would end / Remember when wars would end? / Now when something’s dead / Now when something’s dead / We try to kill it again”  Like a lot of Wilco’s work, this album is ultimately about seeking meaning and connection in a world that feels bleak. To say we’re all collectively finding it challenging to unearth joy right now—as the world seems to be imploding around us—is an understatement. But Tweedy & Co. are still here, trudging through the mire with us, trying to make sense of it all with understated orchestral melodies and insightful lyrics. —Erin Hall


There are plenty of books about men who walk away from intellectual lives to have rugged adventures out west, grappling with identity and masculinity—and often a certain amount of navel-gazing self regard. Continental Divide follows this pattern to a point, but brings a clear, compelling voice to these familiar proceedings, steering deftly away from cliche and self indulgence. The protagonist, Ron, is a transgender man who has been rejected by his family, feels alienated from his old lesbian community, and has been forced by circumstance to take a year-long break from Harvard, where he is an undergraduate student. Driven by these forces, he finds himself in Wyoming where he must learn how to live among strangers who may turn dangerous if they learn of his history. The book is set in the early 90s, and a strong undercurrent of peril runs through this story. Even more engaging than the plot tension, however, is Ron’s internal struggle. As he learns who he is and how he fits into the world, so too the novel finds itself and flows into a rich and satisfying third act. The indistinct blur of vaguely menacing cowboy types whom Ron must find his place amongst becomes a tapestry of fully realized characters as Ron himself comes firmly into focus. —Harriet Burbeck


Rion Amilcar Scott’s latest collection of stories brings readers back to Cross River, Maryland, a historically Black fictional town founded in the early 19th century after America’s only successful slave revolt. First introduced to readers in Scott’s 2016 Insurrections—winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction—The World Doesn’t Require You drifts into the weirder realm of Cross River. Mixing elements of sci-fi, horror, and folklore, Scott constructs a reality of uncommon occurrences: sentient servant robots staging a rebellion, mythological water women luring men to tranquil deaths, a burnt-out professor squatting in a college’s communications building while attempting to build a shadow university. As a writer, Scott is heading in a deeply weird and surreal direction, building an increasingly nuanced world while elevating the short story form to a place far outside of the ordinary. Many of Scott’s stories have a way of sticking with you, calling you back for a second (or third) reading. This collection of short stories is also quite funny, aided by the author’s aptitude for absurdity. While not necessary, interested readers would benefit from familiarity with Scott’s previous collection, particularly the story “Three Insurrections.” Cross River is a special place, and Scott is proving to be an exciting writer to watch. —Andru Okun

(W. W. NORTON & CO.)

Super Pumped is fundamentally a tale of palace intrigue. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s buffoonish bro founder, saw the company immersed in scandal after scandal: allegations of unchecked sexual harassment and misogyny, battles with public officials where apps secretly declined ride requests from regulators, a lawsuit over a self-driving car engineer poached from Google’s parent, Alphabet. Mike Isaac, who’s covered the company for years for The New York Times, delivers an entertaining and detailed chronicle running through Kalanick’s ultimate ouster by the company’s board. While Isaac writes matter-of-factly, the details are still damning (and, often, mordantly funny): a video-recorded rant by Kalanick at an Uber driver upset about declining pay, the fact that Kalanick maintained two Los Angeles residences so he wouldn’t have to sit through crosstown traffic, and his much-mocked corporate values like “always be hustlin’.” Isaac touches less on the larger societal effects of Uber, and it can be jarring that Uber passengers and drivers really only work their way into the narrative when they do something inconvenient for the hapless founder, like committing suicide or being assaulted. But Isaac has delivered a readable and concise reminder of the fallibility of Silicon Valley’s oft-vaunted titans of industry. —Steven Melendez


For all its self-reflexive and parochial tendencies, New Orleans generates more than its fair share of analytical writings and critiques. In this collection of academic essays, New Orleans exceptionalism is deconstructed. That the city somehow exists outside of or apart from America is disputed, and the concept of authenticity is picked apart. Offering valuable insights into the history of the city and the oft-repeated musings of what makes New Orleans special or unique, Remaking New Orleans parses tourism, urban redevelopment, and the attendant myths, misconceptions, and impacts. In particular, notions of renewal or recovery are called into question. Bryan Wagner’s study of professional wrestler Junkyard Dog and the history of Armstrong Park is one of the book’s highlights. Another standout entry is Helen A. Regis’ essay on New Orleans’ categories of belonging, the dichotomy of “natives” and “locals,” and the cultural commodification and erasure that occurs vis-à-vis tourism, journalism, and academia. An illuminating treatise on the history of Zulu masking, a metiuclous account of systemic opression of homosexuality in a gentrifying French Quarter of the 1950s, and varied essays examining the sociopolitical and spatial impacts of discrimination, segregation, and neoliberal policies round out this collection of New Orleans-specific disquisitions. True to its academic form, this is a challenging and dense book that demands slow and careful reading. There’s a lot of information to sift through, and while mostly interesting, the specificity of some of the formal essays may be tedious for readers whose interests fall elsewhere. —Andru Okun


Crime stories, whether fact or fiction, often expose deeper truths about the communities where they take place than just who did what to whom. That’s what Vivian Ho seeks to do here, using a pair of robberies-turned-murders committed by three young, homeless adults in the Bay Area to examine the larger phenomenon of traveling, homeless youth. She explicitly challenges false assumptions about “street kids”—that they’re homeless by choice with trust funds back home, or that they’re all prone to violence. But the details of the crimes, the essentially random victims, and the people who committed them turn out to be largely irrelevant to that larger story. If most traveling kids don’t rob and kill strangers, focusing only on the backgrounds of a few who did sheds little light on the overall phenomenon. It also doesn’t help that verifiable information about how the three grew up, and the experiences that shaped them, seems hard to come by. Ho’s description of the Rainbow Gathering, a festival that attracts many traveling homeless, or her profiles of other “street kids” she’s encountered may have been a better jumping off point. —Steven Melendez


Readers who have enjoyed Kate Lacour’s unsettling comics in these pages over the years will rejoice to see them given their full due in this luscious hardcover collection from Fantagraphics. Lacour’s meticulous ink and watercolor illustrations are reproduced in full color in Vivisectionary, and they depict dreamlike re-imaginings of biological forms. The images are beautiful, harrowing, and familiar in ways that draw connections between the feral and the clinical. Animal bodies, human and otherwise, are dissected, mutated, and re-formed on each page. A worm is sliced into lunch meat, a fetus consumes its mother’s heart, an incision carved on the back of a head opens up one giant eye inside the skull. In this book, Lacour grapples with life, death, sex, and consciousness, and does so gruesomely and gorgeously. Every detail in Vivisectionary has been carefully considered, from the blood-red marbled endpapers to the quasi-scientific numbering of the plates. When you need to be reminded that your body is full of squishy horrors beyond your perception—and that these too are beautiful—this is the book for you. —Harriet Burbeck


Is free speech possible in a deeply unequal society? And did the United States ever have “free speech” in the first place? Author P. E. Moskowitz investigates these questions against the backdrop of increased surveillance and rising fascism in the U.S. Through explorations of militant labor movements in the 20th century to the no-platforming protests on college campuses, Moskowitz shows “free speech” has been a tool for both right and left wing movements to push for change under the guise of an ostensibly universal value. However, though free speech is very often invoked as an intrinsically moral concept, “free speech” arguments often fail to question who gets to speak in the first place. From Charlottesville, Virginia—where Moskowitz participated in the counterprotests at the infamous “Unite the Right Rally” in 2017—to the protests at Standing Rock, back through history to the Black Panthers and the murder of Fred Hampton, Moskowitz looks at the ways that speaking out is threatened, as corporate money and government surveillance play ever larger roles in the right to protest and organize. With searing prose, painstaking research, and more than a little dry humor, Moskowitz shows that “speech” is anything but free, and that fighting for that essential right seems to keep getting costlier. —Jesse Baum


To mark the 20th anniversary of Louisiana’s most celebrated genre-bending Cajun band, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have put out a new live album, Asteur, to accompany the recent release of their rockumentary, On Va Continuer. Asteur is a live album assembled from performances at seven different New Orleans music venues, and it is a choice sampling of the Ramblers’ wide-ranging music sensibilities. Tracks like “Cote Clair,” a lackadaisical swamp waltz, and “Amedé Chopique,” a spirited dance tune recorded at Preservation Hall, hit the kind of Cajun sweet spot that gives the Lost Bayou Ramblers their reputation for traditionalism. But as always, they aren’t afraid to take sonic risks: the otherworldly live rendition of “Kalenda” and the tripped out “Vermilion Vortex” display an experimental bent that characterizes the unconventional Ramblers sound.


The documentary On Va Continuer highlights their unique ability to keep a foot in the past while casting an eye towards the future. Director and cinematographer Bruno Doria shows frontman Louis Michot buying traditional ‘ti-fer’ Cajun triangles from their maker, and building a traditional home out of materials found in Acadiana, from cypress wood to a compound of mud and Spanish moss. Accordingly, there is some stunning footage of the Ramblers in their natural swamp habitat, along with a few excellent interviews with Michot, whose insights into reconciling new sounds with regional traditions are sure to add depth to the listening experience. Overall, however, the pieces never quite come together. Some of its more interesting themes—like the fight for the survival of Louisiana French and the complex culture it represents, or the precarious business of setting down roots in a floodplain—are only briefly touched upon and left as loose threads. More narrative sensitivity would have allowed Doria to take these big ideas further. As it is, the 50-minute documentary doesn’t do much more than skim the surface. But the film opens a window onto an Acadiana that can be hard to access from New Orleans, and the charisma of the Lost Bayou Ramblers makes the live concert footage fun to watch. Like Asteur, On Va Continuer reminds us of our good fortune that the band is carrying their rambling ways into a third decade which promises to be just as energizing and innovative as the previous two. —Holly Devon