Beloved Louisianan Jon Batiste and Cory Wong’s (Vulfpeck, The Fearless Flyers) recent collaboration, Meditations, is a dreamy EP fused with intention. Listening to the understated neo-jazz collection, you wouldn’t expect it from two funk-leaning artists, though it unfolds with ease. The six-track instrumental album was recorded in just three days, kindling a harmonious communion: Batiste gracefully gliding upon the keys, with Wong responding on meandering, bright guitar. The tonal temperature of Meditations is gradual, contemplative, yet fluid—just ambient enough. For two professional performers unifying work and pleasure, Meditations is a more relaxed release. The pair engage one another in sonic conversation—Wong on the upbeat contrasting Batiste’s moodier tones. Meditations is a restorative listen in both its improvisational candor, comforting smoothness, and rewarding melodies. It’s a spontaneously conceived album that happens to embody what we’re going through right now, resting in the lulls and revolting with the high tones. —Danielle Dietze


The Beths’ sophomore album, Jump Rope Gazers, is a long-awaited release, trailing their debut album by almost two years. In contrast to Future Me Hates Me, released in 2018, Jump Rope Gazers boasts a much more mature sound. This sparkling collection of songs seems to be both energized and satisfied, which comes as no surprise after the band’s 18 months of touring. Like dust settling after an explosion, the Auckland-based group’s newest record is slightly less raucous than their first, while still preserving the passion around which they built their name. Heavy guitar leads and four-part harmonies continue to be the band’s signature sound, but with gentle tracks like “Do You Want Me Now” and “You Are a Beam of Light,” the album also highlights the group’s range as songwriters and instrumentalists. Despite somewhat lacking melodic diversity, the thematic variety between tracks makes up for the slight monotony and creates an interesting path through which listeners are able to traverse the record. —Victoria Conway


Chicago indie rock trio Dehd was initially formed by Emily Kempf (vocals and bass) and Eric Balla (vocals and guitar) as a means of exploring their new relationship. Their latest release, Flower of Devotion, was created out of the ashes of their romance. This is not the classic breakup album filled with lyrics of anger and revenge, though. Instead, the songs on Flower of Devotion explore how relationships evolve, and how love and friendship are vital and can still remain once romance ends (“Haha”: “Well I’m still sitting here / I’m never far and always here”). Kempf’s vocal range runs the gamut from soft whispers to James Brown-influenced yelps, her voice at times completely distinct and at other times seemingly interchangeable with that of Balla. With drummer Eric McGrady acting as anchor, Dehd has crafted a deceptively simple indie rock sound, with influences in garage rock and harmony-driven ‘60s pop. Though there are many well-crafted songs on this album, the standout is “Loner, for which Kempf directed an equal parts gorgeous and hilarious music video that centers on the exploration of human connection. —Mary Beth Campbell


Rosewood captures percussionist extraordinaire Mike Dillon during a transitional moment in his life. For 14 years, Dillon has called New Orleans home, performing with many of the city’s top-tier musicians on almost every stage available. This record documents Dillon as he transitions to his new home in Kansas City. The result is an emotive instrumental release built on majestic, refined arrangements. This vibraphone-and-percussion-only release sharply contrasts the sound of Dillon’s typical genre-bending funk punk jazz chaos. Rosewood largely expands upon lessons learned from 2016’s Functioning Broke, a similarly mallet-heavy instrumental album that largely focused on Elliott Smith covers. This time around, Dillon covers two Smith tunes, as well as the NIN / Johnny Cash classic “Hurt.” However, most of the album is dedicated to originals that feel simultaneously soothing and introspective. Opener “Tiki Bird Whistle,” a charming exotica number, stands out as one of the most powerful additions to Dillon’s never-ending songbook. At times, Rosewood is a love letter to New Orleans. Local-centric titles like “St. Claude’s Drone,” ”Sober Mardi Gras,” and “Tony Allen at the Music Box” show that his love for the city continues to burn bright in both his heart and musical output. —William Archambeault


Rough and Rowdy Ways is Bob Dylan’s first album of original songs since 2012’s Tempest and contains the epic, 17-minute song “Murder Most Foul” (a Hamlet quote) about the Kennedy assassination. In Dylan’s words, “None of those songs are intentionally written. They just fall down from space.” Shockingly, the song is his first No. 1 hit on Billboard. Ever. Host of The Dylan Hours Lisa Finnie remarks, “[the record] recalls the singularity of Blonde On Blonde as it arrives with its own cohesive, melodic thrust; its fascinating blend of the wistful, playful, and prophetic lyric; and its interest in classic forms beyond the blues.” Stream-of-consciousness verses tap dance on top of blues harmonica and fingerpick the guitar scale that is the genre’s namesake. This collection of songs adds up to a singular, albeit dense, message. In an interview with Douglas Brinkley, Dylan calls his prose on the album “trance writing.” Try to keep up. Dylan’s relationship with New Orleans is special. As he muses in Chronicles: Volume One “New Orleans, unlike a lot of those places you go back to and that don’t have the magic anymore, still has got it.” In that respect, Bob is not unlike the Crescent City. We revisit his catalog of songs and discover nuances and power that were there waiting to be discovered. He barely needs introduction and he wants no tribute. His work, including this new record, stands as testament alone. —Emily Elhaj


Gettin’ Low & Lettin’ Go is the debut album from Help Society (the side project of Knifight’s Patrick Marshall). Over a decade in the making, Marshall notes in the project’s Bandcamp page that the album “is about the process of grief… you learn in time to integrate it with your life and eventually find yourself again.” The album is separated into three “stages,” each introduced by a short instrumental number (if you are a fan of the Blade Runner soundtrack, then “STAGE 3” is for you). Synth lines drive most of the tracks, creating an ambience that is emotive but not heavy. Marshall leans into a funky vibe on “Again, vocally giving off some Prince vibes as he laments about a tumultuous relationship (“You try to put me in my place”). “Wanting More” and “Wonder Why” are more guitar-driven. On “Better,” delicate synth lines and heavier drum and bass contrast to convey the emotions that arise from a breakup. This variety leads to each song expressing and processing different stages of loss through a distinct lens. These are songs to revisit, whether your grief is still fresh or beginning to fade. —Mary Beth Campbell


Texas trio Khruangbin (literally, “engine fly,” or airplane, in Thai) have a sound that transports you to another world—one that is both joyful and surreal. Influenced by Thai rock/funk, surf rock, psychedelia, and soul, the band’s sound is modern while also bringing to mind an obscure album you found when rifling through the crates at your local record store. Known for crafting primarily instrumental music, Khruangbin’s songs on Mordechai feature vocals in a more prominent role, allowing the band to dig deeper and explore themes such as memory, time, and the sense of longing we all experience. The band’s instrumental prowess is deftly utilized to further propel the album’s themes. The funky second track, “Time (You and I)”, is a musing on the passage of time and the desire to return to youth: “If we had more time / We could live forever / Just you and I.” Other notable tracks are the memory-centric psych-soul track “Dearest Alfred” and the playfully surreal Spanish-language “Pelota” (which has an equally delightful and surreal music video). Mordechai is, ultimately, a joyous album—a reminder of the beauty that still exists in our lives. —Mary Beth Campbell


Soul Food features living legend Maceo Parker dishing up some mean funk with spicy local ingredients. The saxophonist burned down stages as a sideman during vital periods of James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic’s respective careers. Decades later, he has now teamed up with keyboardist Ivan Neville, bassist Tony Hall, drummer Nikki Glaspie, and a whole bunch of other local funk heavy-hitters for a hard groovin’ New Orleans record. Parker feels right at home, even dipping into the local songbook to cover a few 1970s classics. He carries a nasty version of The Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby” with the confidence of a man who is still every bit as funky as he was over five decades ago. Parker also serves up strong versions of Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can.Soul Food doesn’t offer any fresh originals, but Parker and the band clearly bring their best. Their take on Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” features a powerful vocal call-and-response between Parker and soul sensation Erica Falls. WWOZ mainstay (and occasional AG contributor) DJ Soul Sister even joins in on the fun for group background vocals for “Cross the Track” and “M A C E O.” It is doubtful that Parker will move here, but it is clear that he would be much welcomed if he considered a change of locale. —William Archambeault


Coronavirus has placed a unique hurdle in the world of art and music. How should we metabolize the ever-growing pain and politics of our current climate? Perhaps the remedy right now is merely acknowledging it. In their latest release, Stay at Home Demos, Max of New Orleans’ Max and the Martians meets us in this uncertain place. “Cox just turned your internet off,” he humors in the opener “Venmo.” The 11-track album, recorded during quarantine, grapples with modern quandaries like tragically long lines at the grocery store, questioning if they’ll re-open the cruise port at the End of the World, or just hoping our loved ones don’t die. Max’s ability to craft truth with humorous odes is healing yet confronting. The theme of death weaves throughout the songs, perfectly contrasting their lively, upbeat performances. Max’s pandemic partner, Mik, joins in on vocals in these healing, bright demos that mimic the absurdity of our current disposition. Plus, 100% of the profit from album sales through Max and the Martians’ Bandcamp will be donated to Southern Solidarity. Danielle Dietze



Dominic Minix has had a career-long obsession with confounding genre. He comes by it honestly. Just four years out of college, he’s already worked with some of the biggest names in contemporary New Orleans Black American Music, from Nicholas Payton to Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (both of whom have rejected the “jazz” label as a colonialist imposition on an infinitely diverse artform). At Loyola, Minix led a quartet that played somewhat traditional bop-influenced fusion. But after graduating, he started a project called Yung Vul, blending his background and training with an emphatically punk ethos. Their album, Cannonball Adderall, had some great tracks, but didn’t quite live up to its ambitious concept. In the past two years, after an ill-fated move to L.A. and a frustrating year in retail at a Magazine Street boutique, Minix has gone solo and honed in on his own original sound. The Sun Will Show Again is easily his best work yet. Here, he’s toned down the virtuosic guitar playing that overwhelmed some of his earlier efforts, in service to a more holistic sound. His influences glimmer from behind the music without ever making themselves too obvious. There’s 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye (“No Alliances”) Supa Dupa Fly-era Timbaland (“Ruckus”) and, on the breathtaking closer “Sleep Deep,” In Rainbows-era Radiohead. The four-track EP’s collagic nature could easily have spread it too thin, but Minix blends all his disparate elements together into a whole that transcends its parts. —Raphael Helfand



In June, crust punk duo Quarter Rats released their second EP in as many months, and it’s a significant departure from their previous efforts. May’s All Parades Must Pass sounded similar to last year’s Headlines, noise rock done with reckless abandon, all volume and intensity. The Quarantine Tapes is more melodic and groovy, with dynamic structures and varied moods. “If That’s the Case kicks off with a savvy garage riff over a surprisingly restrained drum beat. It’s downright danceable, more like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs than the ear bleed assaults the Rats put out as recently as spring. Natural Law has a dark and catchy refrain (“Mother nature’s got a problem”) enhanced by a ton of atmospheric reverb. There are still a few unhinged freak-outs, and the tracks were all cut on an analog four-track, a staple of the group’s DIY ethos. The whole affair is just more focused, with sober parts to contrast the chaotic breakdowns. Whereas many of us let ourselves go during quarantine, Quarter Rats cleaned up and got a shave. —Michael Kunz


Say Sway is the latest iteration of the decade-long collaboration between Carly Meyers and Adam Gertner. With this name change comes an evolution in their sound. As ROAR!, Meyers and Gertner created joyful, shimmery pop; their first collaboration, Yojimbo, was soulful New Orleans funk. As Say Sway, they produce atmospheric, chilled-out dream pop that maintains elements of the duo’s previous incarnations: Meyers’ fiery trombone and Gertner’s deep drum grooves give their sound an edge and energy not usually heard in the dream pop realm. Meyers’ vocals vary from ethereal to punk, giving each song its own distinct aura. The incorporation of samples and pedals adds an additional sonic layer, resulting in a sound larger and lusher than that of many full bands. Given the duo’s experience, it is no surprise that their debut, Love, is a collection of songs with a self-realized sound and message. Standout tracks include “Static,”Into the Night,” “Daydreaming” (I dare you to not groove to that trombone solo), and “Cinematic Love Song.” This is the perfect album to groove to with friends (responsibly!) as well as to brood alone with. —Mary Beth Campbell


For all the plans it frustrates, quarantine couldn’t be more conducive to antisocial recorded music. Bobby Bergeron, creator of Paranoize zine, has been making drum machine crust punk tunes since March and releasing them under the name Shitload. The Covid Sessions is the fourth Shitload album, compiling the second and third albums into one longer album. The tape release has some bonus tracks on it because Bergeron “accidentally bought the wrong length cassettes,” but he also only made 20 of them, and they’re already sold out, so most people will only have access to the digital release. This stuff doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s made for people losing their minds during quarantine by someone losing his mind during quarantine. The bass sounds good and grimey, and the songs are fast and irreverent enough to win over grindcore fans. The song titles are topical and mostly funny, which is all the language you’ll get since the lyrics aren’t printed and the vocals are indecipherable—except for “I Need to Get the Fuck Out of Here” where you can clearly hear Bergeron screaming the title phrase throughout.  —Michael Kunz



Special Interest have as valid a claim as any to being the most important punk band in New Orleans right now. Their eagerly awaited follow-up to 2018’s Spiraling brings more of the industrial, no-wave mania that defined their debut, this time with less humor and a more sinister tone. That could have something to do with their new producer. While electro-sleaze wizard Quintron surely imbued Spiraling with his own quirky touch, The Passion Of enlists James Whitten, the ears behind some of the city’s heaviest punk and metal records. The band wastes no time flexing its new intensity, blasting off with a 40-second collage of stomps and feedback swells simply titled Drama.” Other reasons for the tonal shift are suggested by the group’s more earnest political stance. Lyricist Alli Logout has never shied away from topics like race and sexuality; in 2018 they were “Young, Gifted, Black, In Leather.” In this year’s “Homogenized Milk, Logout likens gentrification to genocide, a pointed shift away from glam celebrations of identity and into confrontational doom. The hyperactive “Don’t Kiss Me in Public may be the lead single, but this album is packed with highlights. The dystopian “All Tomorrow’s Carry” and the Iggy Pop swagger of “Street Pulse Beat are stronger examples of the group’s musical progression. —Michael Kunz


Yoshitaka “Z2” Tsuji is a world-class pianist—quite literally. His 20-year career has taken him from Osaka, Japan’s bustling contemporary jazz scene to becoming a mainstay of Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers in New Orleans. Tsuji’s second solo album, From the Beginning, finds him reflecting on this two-decade journey through songs that have impacted him along the way. This mostly instrumental release features him joined by Richard Moten on bass and the always sharp Shannon Powell on drums. The trio weave their way through the pianist’s takes on tunes by the likes of Professor Longhair and Oscar Peterson, as well as a few of Tsuji’s own compositions. Fiery original “Jazz Variety” showcases the fresh and organic interaction between instruments. Tsuji brings his journey full circle on his version of local classic “Paul Barbarin Second Line.” On it, he reunites with Osaka trumpeter Mitch, who played a key role in encouraging Tsuji to visit and eventually move to New Orleans in 2010. The track also features trombonist Haruka Kikuchi, a growing figure in the local trad jazz scene who happens to be married to Tsuji. Kermit Ruffins, usually Tsuji’s boss, joins the pianist on an especially tender rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” In it, Ruffins changes the line “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow” to reference Tsuji and Kikuchi’s young son Shouta. —William Archambeault


The lead single, “Pleasure Line,” sparkles and pops while escorting you into Video Age’s third full-length album and first for the Winspear label. The intro track describes the moment one becomes vulnerable in love and the songs that follow describe what comes after. This album is a faithful continuation of the style found on 2018’s Pop Therapy, though less Eastern Bloc (i.e. songs like “Echo Chamber”) and more smoothed out. Recorded at home by Ross Farbe, he brings his experience at The Living Room Studios to create the band’s crisp sound. “Sweet Marie’‘ feels a bit different. The instrumentation is less direct and you can hear the air in the room bringing us into a decade less inhabited by Morris Day and the Time synth flourishes and Larry Graham bass slaps. While driving the next course of ‘90s arcade game Cruis’n USA, you can almost hear “Aerostar,” an ode to the band’s van of the same vintage, come on the stereo. For those who feel vintage synthesizer music in their bones, swear by Donald Fagen, and have purchased the new TOPS record, they must get their white suit out of the dry cleaners and listen to Pleasure Line. With its Day-Glo disposition and playful nature, this record is a bright spot during anxious times. —Emily Elhaj


Do you miss grimey dive bars and the scummy rock‘n’roll bands native to those environments? Then G.T.R.R.C. II is for you! This compilation brings together an international assortment of lo-fi no-names for a sweaty array of powerful covers. Bands from Australia and the U.S. take their shots at tunes ranging from Slayer’s “Raining Blood” to crate-digging obscurities like Nubs’ “Job.Sick Thoughts, the solo moniker of New Orleans’ ever prolific Drew Owen, rips through an attitude-filled take on “Killer On the Loose,” an undergraduate gem from Thin Lizzy’s later output. Australia’s G.T.R.R.C. resurrects “Food Fight,” the Village People’s long-forgotten attempt at new wave. Their scroungy rendition of the ridiculous tune is an infectious, carefree moment of pure absurdity. Very few of the tracks on this compilation album sound very polished, but that’s part of the appeal. What these recordings lack in cosmetic beauty, they more than make up for in sheer passion and angst. —William Archambeault


A noir in an experimental style, Hurricane Season begins with the murder of The Witch, a marginal character living in a village on the eastern coast of Mexico. As the story unfolds, we hear testimonies from several characters close to The Witch, including the murderer, his accomplices, and a teenage girl The Witch had helped to induce an abortion. Their stories don’t contradict each other so much as they illuminate different aspects of the circumstances leading up to the killing. The world of the novel seems so insular, the characters so cruel, their actions so depraved, one doesn’t know whether to laugh in horror or look away. Everything—especially sex—is commodified, and capitalism enforces brutal, patriarchal gender norms. Needless to say, the cops cannot be trusted any more than the narcos. Without flinching from the desperate circumstances that she is writing about, Melchor empathizes with her most broken characters and understands how pain produces cruelty. Written with an energy that makes it seem to have burst from the pen in a single sitting—though it couldn’t have, obviously—Hurricane Season earns the superlative tour-de-force. —Tom Andes


Zach Wells is a “geologist-slash-paleobiologist” teaching at a university in Southern California when his daughter begins having seizures and difficulty with her vision, both signs of an impending fatal neurological calamity. At the same time, Zach discovers a mysterious note in the pocket of a jacket he has just mail-ordered: Ayudame or help me. In denial, wrestling with his daughter’s mortality, Zach begins to investigate what he suspects is a sweatshop in rural New Mexico. Is he abandoning his family to play savior to a group of trafficked women, or are his intentions noble? This is one of the most approachable of Everett’s many excellent, often experimental novels: a page-turner, despite the fact that he breaks up the narrative with Zach’s field notes, chess moves from a game with Zach’s daughter, Latin phrases about philosophy of language, and other pieces of culture Zach absorbs. The murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez cast a long shadow over the book, but Zach’s ambiguity about campus racial politics makes this deeper, richer, and more morally complex than a mere savior story.  —Tom Andes