Brooklyn-based experimental artist Rosa Bordallo’s solo debut has been almost a decade in the making. Reef Walker’s ten songs are deeply personal; they run the gamut from Bordallo’s personal stories of her life in New York and her native Guam, her Chamorro heritage, and the effects of trauma and injustice.  “Sleight of Hand,” the dynamic, fuzzed-out second track, laments a bad relationship while acknowledging that she has the power to make it go away: “You’re just a lurid headfuck / You disappear from my arms like a… sleight of hand.”  While Bordallo’s experimental and punk roots feature prominently in her music, she is not beholden to one sound. The opening track “To Mariana” is a wistful baroque-pop love letter to Guam. “Trust Territory,” first written during the 2016 election and, fortuitously, released during Trump’s impeachment, is a fierce, folk-tinged warning from the perspective of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Island Trust Territories (“And no fear or favor / Will save you from your fate here”). Reef Walker is a beautiful set of songs, made more powerful by the fact that Bordallo unflinchingly uses her role as an artist to speak the truth and challenge the systems that cause harm. —Mary Beth Campbell


Mike Dillon is unpredictable. He’ll frequently jam with the likes of Ween and Clutch before turning around to collaborate with local jazz stalwarts like Johnny Vidacovich and Stanton Moore. Still, this might be one of Dillon’s most unexpected projects yet. A few years ago, the local percussionist was tasked with composing a score for Kharma Bums, a documentary about four friends traveling 140 miles across India via the Ganges River. This newly released score features Dillon, already a longtime student of tabla percussion, combining India’s rich traditions with his distinct musical voice. The resulting cultural mishmash features his local interpretation filtered through musicians such as bassist James Singleton, producer/string player Rick Nelson, and sitarist Andrew McLean. On “A Most Auspicious Day,” McLean’s sitar blends with Nelson’s strings. They lay over the top of a vibrant percussion base created by the melding of tabla and drums, creating something that is both inspired by India and distinctly the result of their own collaborative powers. This score’s delicate arrangements lean heavily on Dillon’s elaborate tabla rhythms and quirky vibraphone melodies, occasionally distorted for strange outer space sounds. This newly released score is far from a pillar of Dillon’s already extensive discography, but nonetheless elevates his reputation as a true musical renaissance man. —William Archambeault


Although Hikes utilizes the intricacies of math rock, the Austin quartet’s sound also leans heavily on their love of folk music. They personify this duality in the humorous video for “Extra Mile.” The track features a collision of thunderous million-mile-an-hour guitar work and sharp drums, but the video depicts the quartet as a group of loveable ranchers discovering mushrooms and playing old timey acoustic instruments. Mahal Kita, which means “I love you” in the Tagalog language, showcases Hikes’ growth since their 2017 EP Lilt, which they recorded in Japan under the guidance of toe guitarist Mino Takaaki. The band is intense on tunes like “Extra Mile” and “Empathy,” but Mahal Kita primarily emphasizes a calmer sound than their previous release. Former guitarist Claire Puckett’s return to the band also pushes them in new directions. She takes over lead vocals from Nay Wilkins on “Aurora,” an eerie yet calm number that brings to mind her side project, Kellen. The following track, “Graying,” is a beautifully intimate tune that features Wilkins singing and strumming their guitar alongside accompaniment from the Atlys String Quartet. A similar feeling of introspective depth also defines acoustic number “Mauve Rinsed.” —William Archambeault


If Jimi Hendrix and Terry Callier had a roll in the hay, their love child would sound a bit like Kiwanuka. Blending rock and soul with Michael Kiwanuka’s epic voice makes for an entertaining and earnest album. After penning “Cold Little Heart” (also known as the theme from Big Little Lies) and a Mercury Prize nomination, Kiwanuka has our attention for his new full-length. The album art draws you in with its depiction of a bearded and adorned regal figure. While reemploying producers Danger Mouse and Inflo from 2016’s Love & Hate, Kiwauka feels like an artist being vulnerable but also hitting his stride. The single “You Ain’t The Problem” is a fuzzed-out, smoldering banger. With the live feeling of Donny Hathaway’s “Everything Is Everything,” there are sounds of people mingling, hand drums, and a driving bassline that keeps the song grooving until its satisfying dissolve into an ambient, synth melody. “Hero” is an homage to the revered Black Panther Party president and activist Fred Hampton which warps into overdrive with a crunchy guitar solo that might please Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel. The mood abruptly segues into “Hard To Say Goodbye,” which soothes the burn with a lush string arrangement. This contemporary take on psychedelic soul is fresh and unparalleled. Kiwanuka is bold and reveals maturity and sophistication. This is funk fit for a king. —Emily Elhaj


New Orleans’ own Planchettes have built a solid following around their signature sound, a horror-tinged fusion of rockabilly, punk, blues, psych, and surfer rock. They could easily serve as the house band in a B-horror movie from the ‘60s or ‘70s, but their music and attitude also have roots in the present day. The Truth, their full-length debut, opens with “Snow Pig,” an energetic blues rock number that is both tightly executed and dripping with raw emotion. This is a band of talented musicians who are at once focused on crafting their sound but also unafraid of releasing the chaos within. On the space-psych number “(You’re Just Like) Everybody Else,” the Planchettes make it clear that they are a power trio—by the song’s gloriously hectic climax, all the members’ vocals and instruments meld together, forming a single musical force. —Mary Beth Campbell


Quarter Rats, much like their namesake, aren’t polished—nor are they meant to be. The noisy local duo—comprised of just a guitarist/singer and a drummer—beats listeners over the head with caveman-esque simplicity. What the band lacks in diversity, they make up for with sheer intensity and decibels of damage. On songs like “Cheap Date,” Dre Perish musters up howling screams over jagged guitar. This four-song EP is short and to the point, lasting less than eight minutes in total. “Daddy Never Understood,” a cover of Dinosaur Jr. member Lou Barlow’s group Deluxx Folk Implosion, closes the EP.  —William Archambeault


Hailing from the Ozark Hills, Nick Shoulders “puts the ‘try’ in country” (as his press bio states) with Okay, Crawdad. The full-length was recorded locally, as all good honky-tonk should be—live, raw, and straight to tape. It was recorded by Ross Farbe (Video Age) and mastered by Timothy Stollenwerk (Arthur Russell, Built to Spill). With robust jangles that make you want to two-step in your muck boots, the album could be the soundtrack to any Louisiana hoedown. In a time when embarrassing inaccuracy is a trend in the Americana genre, Shoulders is a welcome relief, with his ability to properly rectify old country. Marrying Shoulders’ deep ties to Southern traditional music with street performance grit, Okay, Crawdad is one fun time. In a barking yodel, he sings, “Judge me at the pearly gates / Not in the Hank’s Checkout line.” In “G for Jesus” he pays due to Jimmie Rodgers’ “T for Texas” and other roots artists. New Orleans’ robust country family is growing, and Nick Shoulders is a worthy inheritance. (The album release party is Saturday, January 25 at The Tigermen Den.) —Danielle Dietze


Static Masks excel at a slick and introspective indie sound that’s hard to find in New Orleans, marrying the vulnerability of classic emo with the steady poise of glossy psych-rock. Lines like “Take your medicine to forget all of us” are delivered in a detached croon, keeping their cool inside a shoegaze storm. James Whitten’s dense mix serves the real star of the show: the interplay between guitarists Patrick Bailey and Eric Dauzat. Betraying a debt to Television and early Joan of Arc, the dual guitars weave around each other, navigating rapidly changing time signatures. The intensity of these changes can’t be overstated, both for how spontaneous they feel and how little they come off as impenetrably proggressive. These songs are still listenable at their most adventurous, and when reverting to basics, they’re infectious. That restrained virtuosity is personified by drummer [and ANTIGRAVITY associate editor]  Robert Landry whose solid pacing and kinetic fills never overwhelm the songs. The individual parts add up to the most satisfying whole in the bright and jangly “Last In Line,” a departure from the album’s otherwise gloomy mood. With its familiar four-piece rock arrangements, Permanent Vacation may be Strange Daisy’s most accessible release to date. —Michael Kunz


The Tomb of Nick Cage delivers polished hard rock with horror themes and plenty of shredding guitar solos. Cryptids and Creatures, the local group’s second full-length album, feels like a great fit for that uncle who is a bit too into Danzig and Marilyn Manson. The loud, aggressive opener “Crucible” sets the album’s tone with chants of “Hypocrite!” and “Burn the witch!” Lyrically, songs focus heavily on spooky subjects like the rougarou, krampus, and alien invaders. A radio announcer opens “Night of the Lamprey” with a breaking news announcement that friendly aliens have come to Earth, only to slowly change his tone. At the end of the tune, the announcer declares that the aliens have taken over the city with their mind control capabilities. Ted LaRocca’s unexpected trumpeting on “The Guns of Castor Troy” pairs surprisingly well with the sharp mix of guitars and synths. (Considering New Orleans’ reputation for brass-based music, it is a wonder that more local rock groups don’t take advantage of the city’s plethora of horn players.) The Tomb of Nick Cage doesn’t break too much new ground on this release, but have clearly put time into honing their craft. —William Archambeault


Mat Davidson, a.k.a. Twain, is friendly around the New Orleans Ninth Ward music scene, particularly with jamboree sweethearts The Deslondes. Their collaborative song “Run Wild” opens up the recently released Mashed Potato Records compilation. Twain’s latest, Adventure, is anything but the exciting vibrato the title suggests. Instead, it is a grounded, pronounced string of songs with wavering trill and hypnotizing Wurlitzer. Less risky than his usual rambling songs, it maintains a comforting narrative throughout. “Searching” is followed by “Moving,” hinting at Davidson’s recent move from his hometown of Virginia to Austin where his label, Keeled Scales, is based. On “In the High of the Morning,” Scott McMicken (Dr. Dog) sits in on a hauntingly echoing Wurlitzer that accentuates Twain’s patient delivery. Twain wails, “In the high of the morning / Discover it’s fine / To be gentle and kind to myself / And my mind,” a reminder we could all use from time to time. However, this optimism strikes naiveté in addressing gender and sexuality in “Royal Road.” Currently on tour with Buck Meek (of Big Thief), it will be exciting to see how Twain’s musical venture develops while settling into the South. —Danielle Dietze


The first film by a Black woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Mati Diop’s feature debut dropped rather quietly on Netflix in late November. As with Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro last year, it’s worth digging past the surface noise of Stranger Things and The Crown to locate one of the streaming giant’s rare investments in real artistic audacity. Ada, who lives on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal is betrothed to wealthy Omar but pines for Souleiman, a worker on the giant tower that the city’s oligarchs are building. When the workers, unhappy with their unpaid wages, leave in a boat for Spain, Souleiman departs without saying goodbye. Soon, the spectral presence of the disappeared menfolk makes itself known through the bodies of their lonely lovers on land. Rather than stick to straight-ahead social realism, ghostly-gothic horror, or tragic romance, Atlantics aches with a heart-sickness that’s often found below the surface of all three. Diop’s command of tone and her instinctive way with the supernatural suggest that she’s only scratched the surface of her talent, so here’s hoping Netflix picks up the check on her next project. —Jon Kieran


If you think that toxic tort litigation is boring and lasts too long, wait until you see this movie. Dark Waters is the true story of corporate lawyer Robert Bilott’s “sacrificial” move from making six-figures defending chemical companies to making six-figures suing Dupont Chemical Company over its undisclosed use of deadly “forever chemical” PFOA. The film is a greatest hits of the procedural law drama genre: testy depositions, banker boxes overflowing with discovery documents, doubters, hunches, and all-nighters that lead to the inevitable erosion of the family unit. For South Louisianans, Dark Waters ought to be essential viewing, given the film’s analogue to the struggles of Gordon Plaza and Cancer Alley residents. Unfortunately, the screenplay’s decision to frame the narrative around one lawyer’s hard-fought victory, rather than the desperation of life in impacted Parkersburg, West Virginia, reduces the film’s emotional resonance and trades in the illusory belief that our legal system can provide just compensation for the horrors of late capitalism. —Amitai Heller


Once Al Pacino appears as Jimmy Hoffa and shares scenes with Robert De Niro, what began as an adequate mob movie becomes a good—and then great—mob movie. But in the final 40 of its 210 minutes, the film evolves into something else: an elegy for a particular kind of white masculinity—for the gangster genre, sure, but also a painful meditation on loneliness, aging, the price we pay for the mistakes we make, and how those mistakes are the result of convictions we couldn’t change if we tried. No matter the fact, many of the claims Charles Brandt makes in his narrative nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses—which is the story of real-life hitman Frank Sheeran and the basis for the movie—are contested. The movie’s denouement makes a more eloquent case for “cinema,” as Scorsese defines it, than his excellent New York Times essay. Not his greatest, and at times, the de-aging process takes something away from its leads. But the sweetness and humor of the elderly gangsters playing bocce ball in their nursing home-prison only makes more real the reckoning time promises us all. —Tom Andes


Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja) untangles complicated layers of class struggle within an architectural wet dream in Parasite. Set in South Korea, the film opens to the Kim family folding pizza delivery boxes on the floor of their semi-basement apartment for work. When the oldest son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) gets a job as an English tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park Family, the Kims grasp at the opportunity to emerge from poverty. The Park family, headed by a tech millionaire and his gullible wife, unknowingly hire all four of the Kim family in positions ranging from faux art therapist to housekeeper. The disparity between the two families, while under the same roof, organically achieves a stark statement of class politics and the economic gap. It’s both a suspenseful thriller and a dark comedy that, in true Bong fashion, cultivates a shocking conclusion. A satisfying film, Parasite is a cinematic masterpiece with all the shocks and thrills viewers want, but with enough social commentary to propel them to reflect on the question: who is the real parasite? —Danielle Dietze


For many of us, Star Wars movies have the uncanny ability to send us back in time. In this reviewer’s case, as the opening title crawl blasts on screen, I am no longer a 41-year-old man, but a wide-eyed boy sitting in front of an old CRT television at my grandparents’ house, completely enthralled by this operatic space Western. Overall, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t disappoint, at least if you’re one of those loyal Star Wars fans whose expectations have been tempered by the disaster of the prequels and the unabashed repetition of themes and plot points in these last three installments. Rise of Skywalker starts off promising enough, by adhering to a very simple and straightforward plot: both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire are trying to get to the Sith-infested planet of Exegol for a big showdown with a regenerated Emperor Palpatine. So with the now-familiar crew of ever-more-powerful-Jedi-in-training Rey, the rascally Poe Dameron, stormtrooper-turned-rebel-hero Finn, droids BB-8 and C-3PO, and the mighty Chewbacca, we go on a planet-hopping quest that takes us from the jungle to the desert, and back to a moon of Endor, where we find the crashed remains of the second Death Star, upon which Rey and dark-side counterpart Kylo Ren epicly duel. Skywalker draws its greatest strengths from the now-seasoned lead crew: Finn seems fully matured and battle-hardened, Rey’s inner conflicts rage across her face, and Kylo Ren gets to deliver an “I am your father” type of line. Sure, the plot gets repetitive at points: it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie if something huge didn’t blow up or the Rebel Alliance didn’t snatch victory from the jaws of defeat over and over again. It’s hard to say, without many more viewings, whether Skywalker is a satisfying conclusion. Mostly it succeeds by simply not failing. The plot is simple, the pacing allows for some introspective, quiet, emotional moments (which the prequels sorely lack). The creatures aren’t saccharine cute—not even the wee Babu Frik, a black market droid mechanic who looks both like a cat and the hairball it might spit up—and the visual effects feel grounded in the real, thanks in part to the film’s exquisite 35mm cinematography. And while the ending wasn’t a disaster or anything, it does feel, upon first viewing, a little open-ended. I find it hard to believe that with such a young ensemble cast really hitting its stride in this last installment, that this is actually the last time we hear from Rey and company. With the direction that Disney has taken the franchise, most notably Rogue One and The Mandalorian (a most glorious return to form), I’m hungry for more. A new hope, indeed. —Dan Fox


Watchmen is not about superheroes. Yes, in this alternate 2019 there are (now-outlawed) masked vigilantes, geniuses who wish to change the world in their own image, and the offscreen presence of one god-like blue being. But that is not what this show is concerned with. Instead, Watchmen is concerned about power—about who wields it and who does not. It is concerned about the masks we create for ourselves, why we create them, and the damage they cause. In the season one finale (“See How They Fly”), a character notes that, “You can’t hide under a mask… wounds need air to heal.” Above all else, Watchmen is concerned with racism. The show opens with the 1921 Tulsa “Black Wall Street” Massacre, a horrific and true tragedy that is connected to all subsequent plotlines, placing at its center Detective Angela Abar, a.k.a. Sister Knight (played by Regina King). There are appearances from legacy characters and, yes, we finally get to see that giant psychic squid. But Watchmen the series is not a sequel to Alan Moore’s graphic novel. It is its own story, one which seeks to answer what happens when outside threats are eliminated and we are forced to face what we have hidden behind a mask for years. —Mary Beth Campbell


Graphic novelist Craig Thompson grew up in Marathon, a small rural town in Wisconsin. In his acclaimed 2003 debut, Blankets, Thompson shared about his coming of age in a conservative Christian family, his first love, and the shedding of his Christian faith. Thompson returns to his past in the partially auto-biographical nonfiction comic series Ginseng Roots, the first two issues of which have been released. Intended to be a series of 12 comics—a departure from his preferred full-length graphic novel form—Thompson delves deeper into his past, weaving together his tiny hometown’s once storied history as one of the largest exporters of ginseng in the world; his experiences as a field laborer (a detail omitted from Blankets); his reconciliation with his family and past; the fall of rural America; and the story of the ginseng plant itself. An ambitious task, to put it mildly. Thus far, Thompson has managed to craft a captivating and well-researched story. Drawn in his signature pen and ink with red accents, the artwork is gorgeous and detailed, each element of the story tied together by the motif of ginseng, an unassuming little root whose influence has spanned centuries, cultures, and continents. —Mary Beth Campbell


Spurred by a lecture of the same name, How To Do Nothing is a political missive disguised as self-help. Multidisciplinary artist and writer Jenny Odell, a longtime resident of Oakland, California, advocates for a form of thoughtful resistance to “an economy and information ecosystem preying on our attention.” The ubiquity of social media and its attendant anxiety and despair has reshaped our psyches and relationships. We’ve learned the hard way that the cost of connectivity is alienation; the design of technology can be justly identified as the culprit. In this context, to withdraw or abstain can become a radical act. In the author’s estimation, practices of attention provide openings for dismantling oppressive structures, many of which rely on mental frameworks. Perhaps most importantly, the suggestion is to not simply drop out, but rather to redirect. Allowing for a different kind of attention—like examining the web of relations found in nature—can become a valuable way to counteract the capital-driven culture of productivity. For Odell, a devoted ornithophile, this can be as simple as observing her surroundings. How To Do Nothing speaks to the merits of reflection and the space and time it requires. Through resisting the attention economy, Odell posits, we can better learn both how to be alone and with one another. —Andru Okun


In Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In The Dream House, she discusses domestic abuse in queer relationships, specifically in cases where women are the ones who abuse. Machado understands horror both at the deeply personal and thematic levels. The book is told through a series of vignettes, and each vignette imagines her own horror onto a borrowed form: “Dream House as A Stranger Comes To Town,” “Dream House as American Gothic,” “Dream House as Chekhov’s Trigger.” The most effective of these is “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure,” where Machado confronts both herself and the reader about the inevitability of the book’s contents, and of the invisible inaction that played in her head each time. Machado walks through dreams, fairytales, horror flicks, and queer theory and history to put language to a world of abuse unpainted, borrowing whatever she can to construct her own narrative. Machado builds a house, and lets us study the architecture. She writes, “A house is never apolitical. It is conceived, constructed, occupied, and policed by people with power, needs, and fears. Windex is political. So is the incense you burn to hide the smell of sex, or a fight.” —Marisa Clogher


I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a trilogy I return to and re-read often. These books written for young adults are among the best modern fantasy for readers of any age. The Secret Commonwealth is part two of Pullman’s second, adjacent trilogy, The Book of Dust, which revisits several of the characters from His Dark Materials at different points in their lives. Pullman’s trilogies are set in another world—one of many—with different natural laws than our own. Human souls manifest as animals called daemons, and armored bears and cliff ghasts lurk in the icy wastes of the north. The church, a cruel and authoritarian Christianity analogue, is the principal antagonist in all of the books. The protagonist of the original trilogy is an 11-year-old girl named Lyra whose impulsive, loveable, and clever character is clearly defined throughout adventures that take her from world to world. In The Secret Commonwealth, Lyra is an uncertain, depressed 20-year-old student who is at odds with her own daemon and struggling against unjust power structures. She is a familiar character to anyone who has been 20 before, but she is so unrecognizably different from the person she was at 11 that the disparity is distracting. Events occur that take her from her Oxford home through Europe and into Turkey and Syria. And though her adventures are often thrilling, she rarely initiates them. Instead, she allows herself to be pulled along as she considers ideas about imagination and its relationship to the spirit world in a meandering way that made me wish Pullman’s editor had been bossier. —Harriet Burbeck


Chilean author Nona Fernández plumbs the surreal world of childhood dreams and memory to craft a narrative of political violence and loss. Translated from Spanish into English by Natasha Wimmer (known for her translations of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and The Savage Detectives), Space Invaders is set in Santiago during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship of the 1980s. With short chapters, eloquent prose, and interlacing narratives, the novel recounts a group of friends exchanging impressions of youth. The abstract warfare of the video game from which the novel takes its title gives way to real life brutality, death, and disappearance. “What does it mean to get into politics,” a young student asks a teacher. “How old do you have to be.” Innocence precedes adolescence, and by early adulthood there is a growing need to make sense of all that had transpired. Fernández’s characters seek to collectively parse what’s real, to differentiate between recollection and experience in an attempt to piece together a reliable reminiscence of their shared past lived against the backdrop of a military junta. —Andru Okun 


This debut indie crime thriller has all the hallmarks of the genre: an unadorned style, a downwardly mobile milieu, and a clear-eyed view of social class. Bobby Saraceno is mixed-race but has been passing for white. When his best friend Aaron gets out of prison having become a neo-Nazi, Bobby is forced to confront those aspects of himself he’s been hiding from. Some of the most brutal parts of the book detail the experiences that cause Aaron to gravitate to fascism. While the novel doesn’t sympathize with his choice to turn to an abhorrent political ideology, its portrayal of Aaron’s transformation is nevertheless rooted in the home truth that bullies often begin as victims. But the real heart of the book lies in Bobby’s relationship with his mother, Isabel, and the chance encounter that causes her to reunite with Bobby’s African-American father. Despite some uneven moments—including, unfortunately, the first chapter—tenderness as much as violence propels the story, making the characters relatable and worthy of our understanding. —Tom Andes


Jia Tolentino—a former deputy editor of Jezebel and a current staff writer for The New Yorker—has a special talent for honing in on fundamental flaws and discrepancies in contemporary culture. Whether writing about patriarchy, the internet, or millennial scams, her essays offer a preternatural degree of insight (they’re also often very funny). In her debut book, Tolentino pinpoints the delusions in magical thinking, offering critical analysis underpinned by introspection. The daughter of Filipino immigrants, she mulls over growing up in the endless sprawl of Houston, her teenage years made up of mega-churches, super highways, and illicit drugs. Writing on technology, she argues that the digitally mediated world has eased our ability to communicate about morality while making actual morality far more difficult. Her deep dive into the long history of sexual assault at the University of Virgina, her alma-matter, is one of the book’s highlights. Another essay on feminism, optimization, and athleisure as “late-capitalist fetishwear” is another standout piece. “These days, it is perhaps even more psychologically seamless than ever for an ordinary woman to spend her life walking toward the idealized mirage of her own self-image,” she writes. With Trick Mirror, the 31-year old Tolentino has solidified her position as one of the country’s premier essayists. —Andru Okun

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