Nine years after his passing, singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron’s words continue to shine in force as both tender and revolutionary reflections of America. DC reggae group The Archives revisits his songs during yet another turbulent moment in U.S. history. Throughout the 1970s, Scott-Heron released album after album of witty material, much of which documented the plights facing Black Americans. Tunes like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul?” expressed sentiments that are still omnipresent today. Carry Me Home came out two days after George Floyd’s murder. This uncanny coincidence reminds everyone how little has changed in the decades since Scott-Heron originally wrote these songs. The Archives’ rearrangements breathe fresh life into these old messages. Carry Me Home also pays tribute to multi-instrumentalist Brian Jackson, who was Scott-Heron’s primary collaborator during the 1970s. Jackson joins the group for new takes on “It’s Your World,” “Must Be Something,” and “Winter in America.” The Archives show themselves to be disciplined students of Scott-Heron and Jackson’s collaborations. They even contribute an original inspired by the duo’s work. On “Revolution Disguised As Change,” poet Mutabaruka wonders how many more mothers will be brought to tears after their sons are killed by the police. The revolution is still alive. —William Archambeault


Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album opens with the haunting reverberance of “DVD Menu,” an instrumental track that sets the stage for the rest of the record. The album highlights the powerful intersection between vulnerability and strength. In classic Bridgers fashion, the content of the album is deeply personal, revealing the 25 year-old singer’s experiences and inner psyche through striking lyrics like, “I’ve been playing dead / my whole life / And I get this feeling / whenever I feel good / it’ll be the last time.” In an expression of growth, both as an individual and as a musician, Punisher features a mix of soft ballads and more upbeat, rock-influenced tracks, such as “Kyoto” (which was released as a single in April). Of “Kyoto,” Bridgers reveals to Genius, “I wrote this one as a ballad first, but at that point I was so sick of recording slow songs, it turned into this.” Throughout the record, Bridgers’ gentle voice layers over instrumentals like a lullaby, creating a sense of calm through each melody. At a time unlike any other, Punisher provides a comforting reminder that, in the end, it will all turn out alright. —Vi Conway


Originally frontman Will Toledo’s solo lo-fi project, over the past five years Car Seat Headrest have cemented their place as indie rock darlings, leaning heavily upon influences such as ‘90s grunge and garage rock. When writing and crafting the songs on Making A Door Less Open, Toledo and company decided to depart a bit from the band’s established sound, creating a mosaic of rock, hip-hop, doo wop, futurism, pop, and EDM. The result is a catchy album that has not abandoned the group’s signature riffs and thought-provoking lyricism. Instead, the new influences allow the band to delve deeper into an exploration of human emotion and experience. “Deadlines (Hostile)” lays bare the dark anxiety of temptation. “Hollywood” is both a comedic and deadly serious rumination on the dual aspects of fame (“Everywhere I go, I’m oppressed by these energies / Like it? Yes I love it”). The penultimate song, “There Must Be More Than Blood,” ties together many of the album’s themes, a world-weary song that still earnestly seeks to find a greater meaning to life: “There must be more than blood / That holds us together… / When they pull back the curtain / There must be more than fear.” —Mary Beth Campbell


On Ungodly Hour, Chloe x Halle shift their sleek, heavenly sound into something a bit more devilish. The duo builds harmonies like marble statues, pristine and commanding of respect. Their vocals layer and harmonize to create something holy, most clearly demonstrated on “Overwhelmed,” an interlude that builds and releases tension quickly and repeatedly. Ungodly Hour extends their angelic sound away from purity, exploring more adult themes and sounds. “Busy Boy” is more sultry, a bass-driven beat about dating where they sing “It’s four o’clock / You sendin’ me pictures of your… (oh).” Chloe x Halle have a classicism that predates them, with songs like “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” sounding like they could have been written in the ‘60s. Under Beyoncé’s tutelage, it’s certain their sound will only continue to sharpen and transform; Ungodly Hour is simply their current iteration. —Marisa Clogher


The pandemic and recent protests bring renewed weight to this first album by Hong Kong post-noise rock nihilists David Boring. This dystopian opus, originally released in 2017, showcases tales of despair that revolve around oppression and the modern world’s slow decay. Both “Smog” and “Brian Emo” draw direct inspiration from Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy protests. “I Can’t” illustrates the crushing feeling of being forced into submission by a relentless world. Unfortunately, the bleak perspectives documented throughout this album feel more timely than ever. David Boring’s intense yet cathartic music soundtracks these oblique messages with equally powerful force. Jarring shoegaze guitars that sound like air raid sirens slash on tracks like “Machine#1” and “Men.” The group even descends into an all-out spastic noise freakout in the middle of “I Can’t,” a tune defined by frantic pleas stemming from the frayed ends of one’s sanity. I would normally gripe about some of the unnecessary changes present in this re-issue, but this release brings David Boring’s dysphoria rock to a global audience at a critical time. —William Archambeault


On their second EP, Dua Saleh asserts their identity as viscerally as possible. They are queer, non-binary, and Sudanese-American, and these qualities are built into the fabric of their music. In a recent interview with i-D, they stated that they try to “put out as much content that’s like, the gay and trans agenda, as possible” because many of their Sudanese fans only relate to queerness through theory rather than real world representation. “smut” brings all parts of Saleh to the forefront, where they sing “Bitch I’m a smut / Fuck on my bitch in the truck” then rap in Arabic for the second half of the song. Their beats are textured with heavy bass and warped feedback, and their lyrics are equally visceral, such as on “hellbound,” where they rap “Girl, you caught in Lucifer Labelle town / Diaphragm of sulfur in the air, how?” Their music revels in its underworld fantascism, a mythology of their own creation. —Marisa Clogher


On April 5, 2010, 29 miners died in an explosion 1000 feet underground at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, an unincorporated community in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The company was found to be in large part responsible for the disaster. While it seems a natural subject for Earle (an avowed leftist), in 2020 it’s hard not to hear the album as a pitch for Red State voters. These are the rural constituents who went for Trump in 2016, and Earle wants them on our side. Earle seems capable of putting together a record of good songs on any subject, in any style. Standouts include “Union, God and Country” and “John Henry Was a Steel Drivin’ Man”—defiant as their titles suggest—and Eleanor Whitmore’s vocal, “If I Could See Your Face Again.” At times, the album feels generic, lacking in specific details—until Earle shouts out all 29 miners by name. When it clicks, like on the Chuck Yeager tribute “Fastest Man Alive,” Ghosts of West Virginia is imbued with a badassery that recalls Earle’s best. —Thomas Andes

DEMO 2020

Karate Kid packs a punch on this debut demo. The four-piece punk group, straight out of Tokyo, thrash their way through a short but mighty collection of adrenaline-fueled ragers in under nine minutes. Their singer FxZxKxN frantically shouts over an explosive mixture of thrash and hardcore punk on tracks like “Social Net Sucks” and “Football Suckers.” Band members appear to be united by a love of anything fast. They cite New Orleans punk group PEARS as an influence, but their sound feels more in line with the early 2000s output of high-energy Japanese groups like Razors Edge and BBQ Chickens. It is difficult to decipher the words without a lyric sheet, but the band executes their onslaught so quickly and with such infectious energy that one hardly worries what exactly they find themselves screaming along to. —William Archambeault


Sara Nicole Storm has been self-producing confrontational synth pop under the Nail Club moniker since 2012. This April, she celebrated her vinyl debut on North Carolina’s Hot Releases, after relocating from Pensacola to New Orleans. Collected Methods is something of an anthology or a reissue; many of the songs first appeared on the now out-of-print More Methods cassette. This collection owes a debt to ‘80s goth groups like Bauhaus and Joy Division, but it will never be the soundtrack to painting your windows black in opioid seclusion. More like being exposed under an unforgiving fluorescent light—the subject of the album’s flagship song, “Do You Have Any Flaws?” Storm’s unflinching conviction drives Nail Club’s jagged sound, elevating it above the mod posturing of smart EDM acts. Embracing discomfort as a virtue, Collected Methods’ defining moments are also its most alienating, but this is no masochists-only club. “Schematic” is breezy enough to win the normies over, and the bitcrushed “Suffer” can get bass heads nodding along. Among die-hard fans of glitch and harsh noise, this record will become a collector’s item. —Michael Kunz


This debut full-length from Brooklyn-based trio Nation of Language is a revival of ‘80s new wave wrapped in socially-conscious 2020s indie synth pop. The opening track, “Tournament,” pulsing with synth and drum machines, conveys a deep and thoughtful melancholy that is woven throughout this collection of songs: “I took the long road home / And it never paid off for me / But to feel the proof / As I’m walking around the city / In a torrent of rain.” “On Division Street” and “September Again” are reminiscent of New Order, while “Indignities” could easily be mistaken for a Joy Division deep cut. This album is not a surface level homage to new wave, however. “Indignities” is also a sharp look at those who are resistant to social progress (“In the paper I don’t really read / It says what if there’s more than binary / And I don’t understand / It’s not the way it used to be”). Nation of Language have created a lush and moody album, building upon the foundations of their new wave heroes and indie pop peers without ever losing their own sense of social and musical identity. —Mary Beth Campbell


Dre Perish and David Vannatta are from opposite ends of California, but they never crossed paths until they linked up in New Orleans. Once introduced, they wasted no time starting a band and naming it after the scavengers that scare tourists on lower Decatur. Parades is the duo’s second EP. Like last year’s Headlines, it’s eight grimey minutes of DIY catharsis. That doesn’t mean the band hasn’t progressed musically in its short tenure. Perish’s baritone guitar does a better job filling out the sound than it did on their debut, and shifting textures add structure to songs driven by one or two notes. The anthemic “Pieces” stands out as the strongest example of this formula, with a hook that could pass for a football taunt, and intriguing verses about a maxed-out credit card. The Rats are growing into their role as mainstays in the city’s crust scene. A locally-made soda provides the name of Parades’ opening track “Big Shot,” a screed against successful but parasitic ladder-climbers, the shinier counterparts to those aforementioned Decatur Street scavengers. —Michael Kunz


There’s something about the ruthless summer heat trapping you inside, forcing feelings from deep-down inside of you to come out for fresh air. Esther Rose’s self-described “motivational/romance” music seems to know this place well. This is manifested in her growth throughout her solo albums from This Time Last Night to the introspective You Made It This Far. Now this feeling has traveled its way into her latest marauding EP, My Favorite Mistakes. In the four-song release, she reimagines songs from Roy Orbison to Nick Lowe to Hank Williams. Representing such substantial artists isn’t easy, yet Rose does so while supplying an intoxicating twist with alluring vocals and a familiar rhythmic backing band. Recorded live over three days, the EP’s production is uninhibited, moving, and pure. Enveloping Rose’s well-loved outlook, her personality comes forward even more in this intimate, whimsical EP. Rose croons songs with coarse honesty in ballads such as “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” and highlights her softer side in Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake.” Redocumenting favorite influences, Rose draws the listener into a familiar daydream, reconciling love and loss, welcoming whatever season may come. —Danielle Dietze


The revolution might have caught some of us off guard, but not Brooklyn’s El-P and Atlanta’s Killer Mike. Run The Jewels has been preparing for an overhaul of the system over the span of three albums and this fourth one, simply titled RTJ4, came barreling out of the gate. Their music may be adding fuel to the fire but it is doing so thoughtfully, masterfully, and with a dream team of collaborators. “Ooh La La” was released as the first single and it’s a strong one, but the album is full of single-worthy tracks. Once you hear “Ju$t” featuring Zack de la Rocha (who guested on RTJ’s previous biggest hit to date) and Pharrell, you’ll never view U.S. currency the same way. “The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished (shit) / Look at all these slave masters posing on yo’ dollar (get it?)” Civil rights activist, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Blues Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Staples’ voice cracks open when she sings “It hurts / I’m bein’ torn apart / There’s a grenade in my heart” on ”Pulling The Pin.” This album holds a mirror to our current world, full of flaws and pain and hope. —Sabrina Stone


On June 12th, 2020, London duo SAULT posted snippets of new songs to their Instagram account, along with the following statement: “We present our first ‘Untitled’ album to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives…Change is happening…We are focused.” Untitled (Black Is) is a transformative, timely, and important collection of songs. The sonic landscape is similar to SAULT’s 2019 releases, simply titled 5 and 7—a meld of electronica, funk, Motown, gospel, Afro-psych, and spoken word—but the emotions run even deeper, as there is a greater sense of urgency. “Wildfires” is a call to arms: “But we will never show fear / Even in my eyes / I will always rise / In wildfires.” Other standouts include “Monsters” (“Elevate the intuition now / Baby, your mind is worth more than gold”) and “X” (“Every day, I get a little stronger / Stronger than you / Do not be surprised / The chickens have come home to roost”). SAULT, rightfully, does not water down their message to make those of us outside the Black community “comfortable.” This is a protest album, an unflinching, uncompromising, and unapologetic expression not only of rage and pain but also Black joy, Black love, and above all else, Black power. —Mary Beth Campbell


While I Don’t Wear Suits might be the mildest, most polite protest album of our times, it is a protest album nonetheless. As prolific local rapper Alfred Banks sings in the opening track, he “Came together with one of the Bangas to drop tracks and jams / jazz and bangers / to cause traffic jams and mad hangups.” What he and Albert Allenback (of Tank and the Bangas) actually accomplish on the promising first release of their duo career is something conversational, cheeky, and light-heartedly anti-establishment. The bounciness of Allenback’s backing tracks pairs surprisingly well with the headiness of Banks’ bars. Some of the songs, like “Cheeks” and “Albert Interlude” are absolutely ridiculous and the willingness of two established New Orleans musicians to show that side of themselves is a joy. The catchy, melodically varied “Mr. Apricot,” which features Banga bandmate Tarriona “Tank” Ball, feels indicative of where Saxkixave can go, and Allenback and Banks’ recent live stream performances make it clear that they have the goods and the desire to get there. —Sabrina Stone


Sunrise:Sunset epitomizes the modus operandi of so many New Orleans bands: be very ambitious musically and very unambitious career-wise. The seasoned power trio issued their first release late last year, after close to a decade of gigging around town, rarely outside the city, and not once beyond state lines. This five-song EP captures the strongest 20 minutes from a set they’ve fine-tuned since Obama’s first term. Highlights include a Fugazi-esque instrumental (“Turd Blossom”), an infectious metal riff (“The Done Button”), and a furious dual vocal over breakneck rhythms (“Tuco”). Heavy music from South Louisiana may always be defined by bands like Thou and Eyehategod, who eschew the area’s aloof spirit to enter larger genre narratives. But Sunrise:Sunset deserves a seat at the table. Their nuanced approach, striking somewhere between stoner rock and post hardcore, never veers into the tacky space that regional rock bands tend toward. Their music is writerly, with thoughtful dynamic and tempo changes. It’s a testament to the local scene that a band like this exists casually, without making a big deal out of itself. —Michael Kunz


For years, I’ve been saying that Thou should quit writing originals and just be a full-time Nirvana cover band. The local underground titans have amassed a global following and have received glowing critical reviews for their original material, but who cares about that garbage? They are a mighty Nirvana cover band. Blessings of the Highest Order documents their decade-plus obsession with the grunge icons, compiling covers from various compilations, splits, and EPs. These recordings fuse Kurt Cobain’s beloved songwriting with Thou’s signature low-and-heavy assault to create something far beyond the stiff imitation typical of most cover albums. This equation works especially well on “Scentless Apprentice,” an absolute crusher that arguably surpasses the original in sheer intensity. “Something in the Way” offers Thou a rare opportunity to mellow out. The song’s verses are sparse, calm moments defined by the rare presence of clean vocals. The tune’s sharply contrasting choruses make way for abysmal descents into a combination of thick, distorted guitars and singer Bryan Funck’s signature growls. While some of Nirvana’s bigger tunes are present, Thou wisely avoids hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in favor of deeper album cuts (“School”) and b-sides (“Even In His Youth”). Nirvana’s hits have been shoved down our throats to such an extent that we seldom remember the true power of their tunes. Thou does the seemingly impossible on this compilation: they make Nirvana actually feel urgent again. —William Archambeault


The Hunger Games is a contradictory piece of art—at once a treatise on the injustice inherent in hierarchies, and a rather silly tortured teenage love story. Songbirds and Snakes follows this model, but provides the reader with a valuable shift in perspective. This prequel, set 50 years before the original trilogy, focuses on a villain, the president of Panem Coriolanus Snow, before he rose to power. Instead of inhabiting the point of view of the oppressed district folk, as the original trilogy does, this book invites us to participate in the machinations of a privileged Capitol citizen as he tries both to support his family of decayed gentlefolk, and prevent the death of a young woman for whom he has been tapped as a mentor in an early version of the televised killing spree that is the Hunger Games. His success in all his endeavors is continually defined by his complicity in an unjust, monstrous system; and readers find ourselves, as we commiserate with his journey, forced to confront the complicity with which we maintain our own unjust social structures. This book is a delicious reminder to challenge and confront the problematic systems in our own lives, and though it may be a ridiculous YA fantasy, it is also a solemn admonition to check our privilege. —Harriet Burbeck


Many know the myth of Robert Johnson, the delta bluesman who sold his soul to the devil at “The Crossroads” to receive the gift of music. But plenty of people don’t know the real story. Johnson’s younger stepsister, Annye C. Anderson, has stepped forward to set the record straight in this life-changing memoir. The book reads in two parts: the first, a glimpse into the personal life of one of the most elusive American roots musicians; the other, the account of the battle over Johnson’s legacy in the aftermath of his death. Inside this groundbreaking book, one of the last remaining heirs of the blues legend shares her memories—from Robert’s first time picking up a guitar at age seven to the siblings huddled over a radio listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Between Mama’s fried pumpkin, we hear tales of a man who set out to be a contemporary blues artist with a new way of administering the slide, generating the infamous Delta Blues sound. The real legend still contains a rambling Southern man, a devil, and music, but Brother Robert is the story of his soul. —Danielle Dietze

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