Expect the Unexpected is an apt title for this distinctly Mardi Gras Indian record that also doesn’t quite sound like the genre’s cornerstone recordings, or even 79rs Gang’s past releases. Bumping bass collides with the distinct pitter-patter of Indian tambourines on opener “79rs Bout to Blow.” On this album, Big Chief Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters and Big Chief Jermaine Bossier of the 7th Ward Creole Hunters spin their tales over diverse tracks that include vibrant electronic production, a brass band blowout, and even a sparse piano closer. The lavish arrangement and production on “War Cry” (featuring Nicholas Payton’s soaring trumpet) creates an epic feel that perfectly matches the duo’s snapshot of Mardi Gras Indian battles. Bougere and Bossier already have a full-length album and a 7” under their belts as 79rs Gang, but those recordings favor a less embellished approach to vocals and percussion. Those recordings work well, but Expect the Unexpected feels explosive in comparison. The duo have found a powerful collaborative partner in Lost Bayou Rambler and producer-at-large Eric Heigle. The multi-instrumentalist thickens the 79rs’ sound with drum programming and bass synth parts, transforming tradition into something contemporary, much in the same way that his work with the Ramblers makes Cajun music feel modern. This album revolutionizes Mardi Gras Indian music in the same way that hard-hitting funk ruffled feathers on Indian recordings in the 1970s.  —William Archambeault


Bright Eyes is back after a nine-year absence. Their newest album was bred of a desire to put everything the band’s three musicians had experienced separately into an album together. There are some obvious standouts, such as “Forced Convalescence” and the previously-released “Mariana Trench, but the album isn’t flashy. You couldn’t call it a departure from their now-iconic sound either, which makes it a natural extension of—and excellent addition to—the Bright Eyes catalogue. Conor Oberst’s trembling vocals have always lent an air of uncertainty to their music, but with respect to the terrifying mess that is living in the United States in 2020 (driven home here by lines like “There’s nothing left / no more to tear apart…”), the return of a familiar, beloved voice is a welcome remedy. The band members did not shy away from our current reality in their descriptions of a “world waving goodbye,” but they also made a deliberate decision to include some of the joy that stems from all the beautiful moments that took place in their lives in the last nine years apart. This album neither wallows in the fact that there is no way to go back to the way things were, nor applies a glossy coat to the anxiety and panic of living through a pandemic with a transnational crime syndicate leading the country. It allows the listener the permission to feel everything they need to feel in order to get through the day, because we need “to feel like there’s something to look forward to. We have to hold on. We have to hold on.” —Katie Sikora


It’s 2020 and America is being ravaged by a pandemic, unemployment is rampant, militarized and unmarked federal stormtroopers are kidnapping peaceful protestors, a new video of police brutality seems to appear every few hours, the country is being run by a narcissistic dementia-riddled tyrant trying to politicize public health measures while sacrificing the poor, and the country actually feels like it is finally on the verge of a much-needed revolution. We could all use a Fugazi album. Just like we almost impeached the aforementioned tyrant, we almost got that album. Coriky took the backbone of The EvensIan MacKaye and Amy Farina—and added the scientific and fluid bass lines of Fugazi’s Joe Lally. I’ve never wanted to love an album more than I wanted to love this one. However, like the Democratic party’s choice for presidential nominee, I’m left underwhelmed and disappointed. Perhaps it’s because Guy Picciotto is my Bernie Sanders, and I’ve desperately wanted new music from him since Fugazi went on a seemingly permanent hiatus in 2003. Even without Guy, I feel this album could have been so much more. At best, Coriky produces songs that would fit on Instrument (the soundtrack to Jem Cohen’s Fugazi documentary). At its worst, it’s wallpaper with some extremely, disappointingly average lyrics. “Clean Kill,” the opening track and first single, was a promising tease. It definitely feels like an Instrument track. Lally shines here as usual, and the dynamics of a Fugazi track are prevalent. Lyrically, it’s also one of the stronger songs on the record, as it paints the picture of a drone pilot going through a mundane day of small tasks while updating her relief, who will also be dropping bombs on Yemen wedding parties in the most disconnected manner. It’s shocking what we’ve allowed to become our norm, and this track perfectly paints that picture. The only other standout track is “BQM” with its solid build-up to the group sing-a-long and semi-explosion of greatness; but in line with the overall disappointment this album induces, that moment is cut to just a tiny short burst. But hey, at least it left me wanting more. I expected this record to be the revolutionary soundtrack to this uprising, but it feels very “get out and vote” instead of “defund the police.” It’s a band-aid, and I’m sad that I put so much faith in it. However, I’m even sadder that I wrote these words, because I love these musicians so much. When I saw there was a track called, “Say Yes,” I hoped that it was an Elliott Smith cover (it wasn’t). But it made me think that if Ian and Amy had stripped The Evens down further into an acoustic Elliott Smith-esque album, it may serve them better than this toe-dipping into the Fugazi ocean. —Kevin Barrios


Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? is the latest album from Oakland-based Fantastic Negrito (née Xavier Dphrepaulezz). Fantastic Negrito’s sound is a blend of funk, hip-hop, soul, blues, and rock, showcasing the intersection and contradictions between the many different aspects of U.S. music and the country itself. How Long” is a gorgeous bluesy number that tries to appeal to the humanity in those who enact violence. “I’m So Happy I Could Cry,” featuring Tank and the Bangas’ Tarriona “Tank” Ball, examines the ways we try to fill voids within ourselves—but also that true happiness does and can exist. Other collaborations on this album are with Bay Area rapper/legend E-40 (“Searching for Captain Save a Hoe”), Japanese guitarist Masa Kohama (“Your Sex is Overrated”), and vocal artist/activist Gina Madrid (“Justice in America”). In a May interview with Glide magazine, Dphrepaulezz explained that “[o]n this album I wanted to write about people I knew, people I grew up with, people whose lives I could personally affect, and whose lives have impacted me.” The songs on this album are politically and socially charged, but not without their moments of hope and joy. They are, after all, what keep us going. —Mary Beth Campbell


A Hero’s Death is the second full-length from Irish indie punks Fontaines D.C., released just over a year after their acclaimed debut Dogrel. Like Dogrel, the songs on A Hero’s Death are grim and darkly funny, imbued with equal parts nihilism and empathy. In other words: this is a band (and album) that is more than fitting for the world we now inhabit. The album opens with a somber statement in “I Don’t Belong,” a chafing against those who have expectations of others. The frantic, psychedelic post-punk “A Lucid Dream” is a rumination on the band’s own rise, as well as the chaotic search for one’s own identity (“Ah, you’re all prone / To being anyone else / Other than you?”). “Love Is The Main Thing” is an art-rock dirge, reminiscent of Joy Division and The Velvet Underground. Finally, the titular “A Hero’s Death” is a bleak and rollicking send-up of the productization of human beings. Like so many other great punk bands before them, Fontaines D.C. force you to face uncomfortable and scary truths (“And please don’t lock yourself away / Just appreciate the grey”). —Mary Beth Campbell


Ganser’s sophomore album, Just Look at That Sky, works to build a dynamic landscape big enough to hold all of our warring frustration and admiration. The sentiment “Just look at that sky” is one usually aimed at delicately inspiring awe, and while this is partly the effect on this album, it’s also more commanding than this. On “Bad Form,” they sing, “Look at the sun” repeatedly with increasing forcefulness as the song comes to a close. This bleeds into “[NO YES],” a softer song that lends itself to more delicate sky-gazing. Just Look… is a tonally inquisitive album, with instrumental inflections on “Bad Form” that mimic a question-and-answer series. “Shadowcasting” acts as its name suggests; the sound goes lower and slower, then is offset by a set of arpeggios that sound like windchimes. It’s a soothing break, but you feel the tension directly underneath. On “Told You So,” they sing, “I’ll wake up tomorrow, I’ll wake up alright” which becomes more insistent with each iteration. Rather than offering answers, this album simply provides the background for working out the questions, dancing and yelling the whole way through. —Marisa Clogher



Gulch plays Hardcore with a capital H. Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress’ titular opening song starts the album off with an explosive combination of rabid-dog vocals, aggressive riffage, and decimating drums. Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress is technically the group’s first full-length, but the eight tracks fly by in a dizzying 16 minutes, every second of which feels urgent. Gulch’s sound is a hybrid of different metal and punk styles united under the banner of aggressive emotions and the overarching umbrella of Hardcore. The only time the group lets up is on their closing version of post-punk icons Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Sin in My Heart.” Their rendition is a slow burner compared to the rest of the material, but almost feels excessive in force when compared to the original version’s artsy and dramatic execution. Then again, Gulch wouldn’t have it any other way. The band made tidal waves with their first 7” in 2018 but haven’t returned to properly follow it up until now. Despite their small discography, the band has already amassed a cult following. Don’t expect to get a physical copy of this album anytime soon unless you’re willing to pay absurd markups on Discogs. The entire first pressing sold out almost instantaneously. Some people in the hardcore world argue that Gulch is overhyped, but their anger appears to be resonating with more than a few people. —William Archambeault



Ho99o9 has had a lot to say in recent months. Topical singles like “Pigs Want Me Dead” and “Pray or Prey” have been eerie soundtracks for the summer of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. The metal / punk / rap provocateurs continue to stay timely on BLURR opener “Beneath the Earths Crust,” yet another piercing depiction of mid-2020. On it, Ho99o9 addresses COVID-19 fears and a “government shit show.” BLURR is an eclectic mixtape, spanning the entire spectrum of the duo’s sound. On the opener, they scream their laments over a slow doom metal instrumental, courtesy of Mammoth Grinder guitarist Mark Bronzino. In contrast, “Hardcore,” laden with angelic background vocals and spacious wah-wah guitar, stands out as one of Ho99o9’s most laid back recordings to date. BLURR, like most mixtapes, has its highs and lows. The duo end on an especially high note with a collaboration featuring Eyehategod agitator-in-chief Mike IX Williams. United together, the trio lay waste to “Firefly Family,” a revved-up number that jumps back and forth between industrial production and metallic hardcore aggression. —William Archambeault


New Orleans-based Killer Whale is the project of Louisiana native Thomas Johnson, who according to the band’s website also spends time in Austin and San Francisco. Johnson cooks up mid-tempo jams that reflect his travels—songs that sound like they belong as equally in an urban California bedroom as they might at an outdoor music festival. His guitar defines these compositions: bent blue notes, major key melodies, shades of funk, soul, and R&B—a jam band with pop sensibilities. Over everything, Johnson’s gruff tenor lifts into falsetto. This music wants to take us away “to another time and place,” as “Canopy” promises. Even love songs like “Plenty of Time” are laid back. New Orleans animates “High on Yo Love,” which varies the pattern without sounding out of place. Yet, from “I used to get worked up trying to be someone I had in my mind” to “Well, maybe your culture will just explode,” Johnson acknowledges the world from which his music promises we can escape. Maybe we can’t really escape the world. But momentarily, transcendence seems possible, and to borrow Johnson’s song title, “Everything Is Cool.” —Tom Andes


Lawn, a post-punk outfit based out of New Orleans, hones in on a familiar social consciousness in their mature sophomore album, Johnny. The 9-track LP balances heavy themes with equally heavy-hitters, reaching a sweet spot between catchy jingles and aggressive vision. The album single “Jane Ryan” is a poised buildup culminating in the anthemic cry to “Respect the place you’re coming from.” Carefully navigating neuroses in three-minute sludge riffs, the album’s punk-leaning tones transcend into pop humility: “This credit card is my saviourRui DeMagalhaes sings in “Summertime.” DeMagalhaes, who grew up in Nicaragua and Venezuela, meets Mac Folger‘s Bible Belt upbringing. The symbiotic musical connection between the two sears their diverging perspectives into a new life. In “Nighttime Creatures,” Mac complains, “We’ve all got something to prove.” Bringing in social taboo, the titular “Johnny” grapples with being an outcast from something you never even wanted to be a part of. Through golden hooks and frustrated shouts, Lawn’s latest offering accomplishes a self-awareness some bands never reach.Danielle Dietze


Exquisite as in exquisite corpse, the surrealist method of composition in which collaborators pass a text around, each contributor prevented from seeing what previous contributors have written. The title refers to the fact that the album was recorded in COVID-19 lockdown: according to liner notes on Bandcamp, members “sang and played into their mobile phones and emailed, uploaded, and WhatsApped their wailings, beatings, scratching, and strumming.” Yet, despite the sound collage that opens it, this is the most accessible record they’ve made in years. Heavy on the bass, incorporating dub and reggae into post-apocalyptic folk, The Mekons sound like they could dance their way to the end of the world—at least until the next depressive dirge. The title track’s “quest for the lowest possible cost of production” gets explicitly political. Elsewhere, lyrics range from existential (“I’m not afraid of human beings / only the inhuman inside them”) to decadent but still political (“There’s gonna be a party tonight / gonna get some wood and build a fire in the rain”). The latter is from “Corn and Grain,” which seems to be about resurrection. It’s maybe an antidote to this: “Goodnight ladies, the boat went down, all we worked for fucking gone.” —Tom Andes


Nation of Gumbolia has released a fiery debut album featuring storied drummer Joe Lastie Jr. Filé explores their roots in the Mardi Gras Indian world, simmered with Lastie’s expertise in traditional New Orleans jazz, brass band, and gospel styles. Each track incorporates its own take on broader genres—think R&B, rock’n’roll and soul—combined with the band’s ceremonial roots. Nation of Gumbolia is a newly formed group that has done just a handful of live performances, including French Quarter Festival in 2019. They enlisted Lastie—a fourth generation New Orleans musician who has played with the likes of Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band—to add an essential layer of expertise to the album. “No No No” and “Dive in That Gumbo” meld accelerated drumlines with Mardi Gras Indian calls, flutes, and electric guitar; “I Be Sowing,” is built on a base of neo-traditionalist jazz with touches of rock’n’roll, and Neville Brothers-type funk. Echoing the recent release of 79rs Gang’s Expect The Unexpected, Filé reflects upon new interpretations of the rhythms that New Orleans has loved for generations. Their take on it is all their own: methodical, inventive, and expertly crafted. —Julia Engel


Orville Peck, the mysterious, masked queer cowboy, shook up both the indie rock and country worlds in 2019 with his debut album, Pony. His follow up, the six song EP Show Pony is a tight collection of songs that expands upon Peck’s signature shoegaze take on country music. Show Pony opens with the wistful “Summertime,” a beautifully desolate yearning for better things. The trucker ballad “Drive Me, Crazy” is reminiscent of Nebraska-era Springsteen (“Tall tales we make up, our eyes on the road / Nothin’ lasts forever, that’s how it goes”). Peck, in his aesthetic and music style, draws heavily from the older eras of country music while bringing in his own modern voice. Closing track “Fancy” is a queer cover of Bobbie Gentry’s 1970 story-song about the unapologetic rise of a sex worker from outside New Orleans (“I got me a Georgia mansion / And an elegant New York townhouse flat / And I ain’t done bad”). And, we would be remiss if we did not mention “Legends Never Die,” his glitzy duet with Shania Twain—both an homage to ‘90s country pop and a celebration of the new era of country music for which Peck is a herald.  —Mary Beth Campbell


“A flight of crows my insect heart / The ticking veins this godless dark.” So opens Made of Rain, the first full-length album from The Psychedelic Furs since 1991. As one of the foremost bands in the post-punk/new wave scene, The Psychedelic Furs’ moody power-pop has influenced countless bands over the decades. It has been almost 30 years since the release of their last album, World Outside, but the Furs manage to avoid sounding dated or as though they are trying to grasp at relevance here. Made of Rain is what you would expect and hope for from a new Psychedelic Furs album—moody, sardonic new wave. The songs are, at times, darker and more introspective in tone than even the early works, but the band has, after all, lived much life since their last album. And from this they strike a balance between the dark and the hopeful. Lead singer Richard Butler seethes on the deliciously gothic “Come All Ye Faithful” and “Don’t Believe” while offering a more sentimental lilt on songs such as “Stars” and the anthemic “You’ll Be Mine.” Made of Rain may not be genre-defining, but it holds its own in the new wave canon. —Mary Beth Campbell


There is a market for children’s music packaged both as fun for kids and gentle on a parent’s fraying sanity. Trawling through Google, you can find several children’s albums by famous recording artists, but they’re often—like Christmas albums—more of a novelty. André 3000 and Johnny Cash are the elusive exceptions, but these albums are rarely hip enough for rad parents or weird enough for kids. R. Scully, formerly of the Morning 40 Federation, wants to create something the whole family can enjoy with his new release, Eat Your Toes: R. Scully’s Songs for All Ages. The New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist finds inspiration in his three kids and creates a wide-ranging and earnestly fun collection of silly songs. Tracks like “See Me Dance” and the title track “Eat Your Toes’‘ strike that rare balance between goofy, funky, and the type of true weirdness that springs from the minds of children, creating a Captain Kanga-Beefheart vibe. Other tracks, such as “Wybonesy” and “Ceci Darlin,” sound like standard folk songs for children. Finally, “Love in My Heart” and “T-Roy’s Pirogue” are a couple of hyper-localized, NOLA-inspired standards for folks who wish WWOZ had a children’s hour. Eat Your Toes shows that former party-rockers can land comfortably in the goofiness of parenthood, finding that an audience of three munchkins might be more fulfilling than a bar full of adults. —Andrew Mullins, III


In 2020, the river of ‘90s musical resurgence has washed past the greasy paroxysm of early grunge and well into the poppy introspection of late ‘90s/early 2000s indie rockers. At the same time, some of the decade’s darker and moodier influences have begun seeping into the underground metal and punk scenes, forgoing the self-satisfaction of technical prowess for unpredictable song structure and atmosphere. Tranche—a New Orleans-based side-project between Laura Fisher, Jeremy Marx, Devin Kerrigan, and Jonathan Arceneaux— has a new release, End of Watch, which strikes an impressive balance between the dystopian dreamscapes of the ‘90s underground and the contemporary dark folk of artists like Emma Ruth Rundle. Each member of Tranche has their primary musical project (Biglemoi and Matron, to name two). These bands’ sounds are much lighter than Tranche, opting more for a shoe-gaze than a death stare. The songs can be algebraic and self-effacing. Tranche, on the other hand, lets it rip. They create more abstract and gloomy soundscapes punctuated with Fisher’s seering and haunting vocals. Unfortunately, the band says this might be their last collaboration, as they’re shifting to focus on their other projects. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary pause for Tranche and that End of Watch sprouts weird tentacles to hold this band together. —Andrew Mullins, III

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