Adelheid is one of AF THE NAYSAYER’s most fun, danceable projects to date. But it’s also more than that. The five-minute piece, presented as a 7’’ EP in two movements, draws its concept from Paradise Lost, and its cover is comic book artist Mikkel Sommer’s rendition of Gustave Doré’s famous “Satan descends upon Earth,” part of a series of engravings Doré made to illustrate Milton’s epic. Without the art or any advanced knowledge of the concept, it would be near impossible to infer any of this meaning. And to be honest, even with those things, I don’t get a very Satanic vibe from the music. But that doesn’t detract at all from my experience of it, which feels, after repeated listens, like a slow cruise down a familiar, well-lit city street at night. Like everything AF produces, it’s deeply layered, drawing from lo-fi hip-hop, synth-based indie rock, video game soundtracks, and “IDM” (for want of a less obnoxious term). It’s complex but comforting, a throwback to the time when it was created—nine years ago—and stored on a hard drive that broke, leaving its two mp3 files languishing in digital limbo until AF located them by a stroke of luck early this year. Back then, “lo-fi beats to study and chill to” wasn’t yet a meme, and you could still talk with nuance about laid back, cozy hip-hop without being laughed at. Simpler times. —Raphael Helfand
Within seconds of listening to “Now Nothing,” the title track off of Cervix Couch’s Kharôn, you are drawn into a gloomy and darkly beautiful musical realm. Citing influences such as early Cocteau Twins and Christian Death (from whom they get their name), Cervix Couch’s sound is grounded in the best of early goth without sounding derivative. Named for Kharôn, the ferryman of the dead in Greek and Roman mythology, the trio’s debut full-length is steeped in its own mystery and mythology. Vocalist V, taking some cues from Peter Murphy, does not sing as much as cast spells, providing additional gravitas to an already heady atmosphere. Their sound is rounded out with a solid rhythm section (drum machines and bass), guitar, and dreamy synths, at times drawing you into a fugue and, moments later, jolting you back awake. Though there are moments where the band veers close to repetitiveness, they manage to avoid that trap and, overall, this is a well-crafted debut. Standout tracks include the aforementioned “Now Nothing,” as well as “Anathema” (with its Pixies-esque opening guitar) and “End of Being.” —Mary Beth Campbell
Deep Sea Diver’s Impossible Weight opens on a vulnerable note: “Do I have to be strong enough / To know what to do / I don’t know what to do” (“Shattering The Hourglass”). In a recent interview with KEXP, frontwoman Jessica Dobson revealed how, after touring behind their second album, she found herself in a deep depression: “I just hit this crazy wall where everything turned black and I couldn’t see a foot in front of me.” Her depression, and the experiences that helped her manage it, gave rise to Impossible Weight. This is a gorgeous and deeply empathetic album, the songs navigating heavy emotions deftly without losing sight of hope and healing. With the help of co-producer Andy D. Park, Dobson and her bandmates have pushed their sound to meet this mood. Though linked together through similar themes, the songs on the album are sonically varied, showcasing the band’s impressive range. The titular track (featuring Sharon Van Etten) is a powerful pop number with edge. “Lights Out” is a rocker, while “Lightning Bolts” has a strong disco vibe. Ultimately, the album ends on a delicate, hopeful note with an important reminder: “You gotta climb /…That mountain in your mind” (“Run Away With Me”). —Mary Beth Campbell
Last year, Sacred Bones gave synthesizer pioneer Mort Garson’s 1976 masterpiece Mother Earth’s Plantasia its first ever official reissue. In doing so, the label helped elevate the album’s cult classic status beyond the limited domain of heady record collectors and pirated YouTube streams. Now, Sacred Bones has returned with a more expansive attempt at reestablishing Garson’s legacy. These efforts include multiple album reissues, a higher fidelity version of Plantasia, and this compilation of rare and unreleased recordings. Music From Patch Cord Productions is an extremely varied release that covers the full spectrum of Garson’s groundbreaking 1970s experimentations. On this compilation, strange tributes to lovemaking like “Cathedral of Pleasure” make just as much sense as an alternative version of his plant-inspired “Ode to an African Violet.” Multiple minute-long advertisement soundtracks further illustrate that Garson was an adaptive musician who leapt at opportunities to venture into new terrains. Some of the music on this compilation hasn’t aged particularly well, such as the catchy but incredibly tacky “Geisha Girl.” Nonetheless, Music From Patch Cord Productions and its varied contents serve as a time capsule providing unparalleled insight into Garson’s output. —William Archambeault
On this compilation, trombonist Haruka Kikuchi showcases the strong musical bridge between New Orleans and Japan. Kikuchi moved to New Orleans from Japan in late 2013 and has since developed a strong reputation locally for her work with the likes of Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band and Cha Wa. Since 2016, she has brought visiting Japanese musicians together with her New Orleans peers for recording sessions. This compilation, the culmination of ten digital EPs, features them working past language and cultural barriers to create together. In many ways, these sessions are love letters to New Orleans’ storied musical history. For instance, pianist Mikio Shoji—who Danny Barker used to refer to as his Japanese son—pays tribute to the local music legend with a version of “My Indian Red.” Kikuchi originally released this compilation digitally and on CD in the spring, but only recently teamed up with the New Orleans Record Press for a small vinyl pressing with a slightly different track listing. She is the only constant presence on all of the tracks, making each one a distinct reflection of the bonds formed between the one-off international pairings. This release serves as a strong reminder of music’s unifying power during a time when the pandemic has tightened borders and made it difficult for even local musicians to play together. —William Archambeault
New Orleans six-piece Kuwaisiana (a portmanteau of “Kuwait” and “Louisiana”) creates music that deftly intersects and transcends cultures, melding Khaleeji Arabic rock‘n’roll with ska, funk, and New Orleans jazz for a bright, celebratory sound. On their debut album Chapter 1: Al-Baab Al-Awwal, lead singer and vocalist +Aziz explored the Arab-American youth experience with poetic, metaphor-rich lyrics. On Chapter 2, +Aziz expands upon this while also touching upon culture identity, life milestones, and current social issues—all in the span of five songs. One of the strengths of this band is their ability to balance the deeply personal and serious with the joyful. The album opens with the energetic, ska-heavy “Guwwa,” on which +Aziz ruminates on the past and what is to come. “Orange Klan” is an unflinching and scathing look at the immigrant experience in the United States (“Hands up, who’s there at the border? / Interrogate the children first”). Though +Aziz is the driving force behind the project, credit is also due to his bandmates, whose musicianship and experiences add fervor and emotion to the stories behind each song. —Mary Beth Campbell
New Orleans singer-songwriter Sam Gelband debuts Mr. Sam & The People People, a charming alt-folk EP steeped in whimsical harmonies and tender rhythm. The album features a talented assembly of local musicians, including Casey Jane (The Lostines), Sam Doores, Carver Baronda, and Duff Thompson (Mashed Potato Records). It unfolds with “Terrified,” a cheeky number reflecting on love and the funny burden when you finally attain it. “I’ll Wait For You” is an acoustic duet showcasing Jane’s airy and angelic voice, romantically contrasting Gelband’s rustier drawl and guitar-picking. “Biking Around the French Quarter” is evocative of a Jonathan Richman song—jangly, unfiltered, and alive. “Thinking of My Family,” the closing track, resounds in its intimacy as Gelband laments, “I’ve been happier since I grew up” over a soft piano and the subtle creaking of a chair in the background, layering the song with vulnerability. Mr. Sam & The People People’s self-titled six-track EP is participatory, amusing, and an exciting debut for this talented artist and friends. Half of the proceeds for the EP will go to causes such as Feed The Second Line, Imagine Water Works, and Movement Voter Project until 2021. —Danielle Dietze
People Museum has laid relatively low throughout quarantine—all the while, however, promising new music on the horizon. When the first electronic rhythms of their newest single “Rush” spewed out of my speakers, my initial thought was that it echoed the sounds of an ‘80s workout video. Those opening beats escalate as the song progresses, with co-founder Jeremy Phipps’ emotional trombone lines coming in seamlessly over the dance beat. A minute in, a female voice interrupts the music to giggle, “Don’t you hate it?” A statement which, when put into the context of the lyrics, is a sentiment that we’ve all felt over the past several months. The main chorus undulates with what feels like a combination of frustration and optimism, as lead vocalist (and People Museum co-founder) Claire Givens sings: “Blew it away, promises that we had made / A rush of rain, a flash, a bolt of pain / I lost my line / The words I can’t say / The speech it passes from me / What can we do / The words we might save / The speech that we can change.” According to Givens, “‘Rush’ is a dance anthem about letting go of the expectations we had for where we thought we would be right now and reframing our thoughts and words to rebuild a better environment for everyone. A mourning that’s moving us toward an evolution.” The original cover art, painted by Phipps, also seems to speak to this. “Rush” is a great introduction to what the group has in store next; Phipps and Givens maintain that there will be more singles to come through 2020, and a full album release to be dropped in early 2021. —Julia Engel
May Our Chambers Be Full is a collaboration between the Baton Rouge-based sludge metal band Thou and Emma Ruth Rundle, who is best known for her post-rock-infused folk sound. The record is a true marriage of their distinct musical influences, culminating in a unique project that explores new territory. Confronting heavy subjects like trauma and existentialism, the album is a visceral, gut-wrenching body of work, both lyrically and instrumentally. “Ancestral Recall,” released as an early single in August, is a clear example of the cooperative nature of the album as it vacillates between Thou’s experimental doom and Emma’s moody melodies. Lyrics like “I’m not of this world / Decaying existence” speak to the overarching sense of despair that permeates the record. Ranging from abrasive metal tracks like “Monolith” to the more ambient “The Valley,” this collaborative debut conjoins the two seemingly disparate artists to produce a mystical synthesis. —Victoria Conway
For the past decade, Hey! Café was a stalwart supporter and fixture of the DIY music scene in New Orleans, due to their familial tie with Community Records. Before the pandemic, Hey! (which closed its Magazine Street location last month but lives on at Tipitina’s and Hey! Coffee) hosted numerous local and touring bands in its wonderfully small and eclectic space. Though live shows are (obviously) not possible right now, the Hey! community continues to support local music via the release of Hey! Comp Vol 1., a lovingly curated collection of country, indie rock, and synth-drenched songs. There is no “best” track—each artist has their own unique sound and each song encompasses its own little world. A few worthy mentions, though, are “Corner Store” (Duz Mancini), “Old Nudes” (Juno Dunes), and “Funny Time” (Palm Sunday). Also featured on this compilation are Jonny Campos and Today’s Hunks, Butte, Bruisey Peets, Weeks Island, Berlin Taxi, Patrick Shuttleswerth, and Bill Hagan. 100% of album proceeds go directly to the artists. If you are able to contribute, copies are available both at Hey! Coffee and online (heycoffeeco.square.site). —Mary Beth Campbell
Continuing a tradition that goldfish-like memories and internet research traces back to Forefront Entertainment—a New Orleans hardcore gangster rap label that also produced hardcore gangster action porn films starring artists like QTPie and Dick McGee—in 2000, Cash Money Records added another gem to the library of films that their “rival” label, No Limit Records had been spitting out. No Limit owned the mid-‘90s, but if you consider New Orleans its own country—like we do—then you surely get a tingle in your spine whenever you hear our national treasure Juvenile say, “Cash Money Records taking over for the 99 and 2000.” And that’s precisely what happened. Cash Money is a time capsule of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. It was the face of the itemized receipt rap era. Rappers on independent labels were getting rich off of their art and no one told you about how well they were doing more than the Cash Money crew. The entire catalog is a very fun, extremely danceable and occasionally introspective monument to excess. They built the soundtrack to pre-Katrina—the days before the major wave of gentrification changed the meaning to the neighborhoods they called out and the project blocks they inflated spacewalks in front of for block parties.
While Baller Blockin’ is somewhat Menace II Society meets The Room (complete with multiple greetings to open every scene), it has that endearing charm of close friends having fun making things together with this influx of cash they all just acquired. The film (or perhaps we should call it a visual essay) opens with a flashback to the childhood of Tanuk (played by Juvenile), where he witnesses the murder of his father, who is in debt to a leather-trenchcoat-with-no-undershirt-wearing ganglord named Garr (Mykel Shannon Jenkins). Garr looks like what would happen if Cameo was cast to play Blade. Tanuk then transitions us to our current timeline, where he is running the drug trade in the Magnolia Projects with Beatrice (Birdman), Iceberg Shorty (Lil’ Wayne), and Teke (Turk).
This would seemingly set up a revenge tale of a young hustler working his way up to the king slinger and growing an army to take down the man that murdered his father. However, they seem to just chalk that one up to the game. Instead, we are given a tale of corrupt cops trying to infiltrate the drug trade by getting the drop on a massive cocaine sale Tanuk and his crew have set up with the Mexican cartel. However, there is the “good cop”—a close family friend—who is serving as the angel on Tanuk’s shoulder, trying to convince him to leave the game and live a life with his girl that would make his mother proud and keep him out of harm’s way. Tanuk is very close to taking that advice, but the lure is too attractive. Tanuk goes all in on a plan that involves ripping off the cartel, which leads to a spiral of violence, torture, and a beautiful scene of friends outrunning an entire fleet of NOPD cruisers and helicopters on foot.
Critics may say they’ve seen better film on teeth, but we bet those teeth didn’t add up to three months of said critics’ salaries. And that’s the Cash Money story: hustling, grinding, and telling everyone that’ll listen about the rewards. This soundtrack is another itemized list of success (including gold standard cameos from Nas, UGK, and E-40) and indulgence—often taking some of their best lines from their hit songs and reworking them as choruses. Most notably here is “Rover Truck,” a song that spoke from the streets but was bumped everywhere from the corner to the corner store, from the Superdome to Oakwood Mall, from the Catholic school kid’s morning drive to family reunions and wedding receptions. And speaking of extravagance, the soundtrack is actually 20 minutes longer than the film and is repackaged for this 20th anniversary edition with a CD, a DVD, and for the first time on double LP, for a grand total of $180. As Ronald “Slim” Williams said, “Baller Blockin’ showed us this movement was bigger than music. At the time, the South wasn’t what it is now in hip-hop. We wanted to go as big as possible, and it’s really the first time of many that we did just that. It was a precursor of everything to follow, and it’s very special to all of us.” Baller Blockin’ certainly paints a picture of time in New Orleans where everyone was more connected and local. It is also timeless in the annals of hip-hop history—especially the following tracks:
The most underrated member of the Hot Boys paints the ultimate vision of perseverance here. Turk’s passion and lyrical alignment provide the perfect opening to the soundtrack’s flagship song. Juvenile, Baby, and the chief of bringing slang into our households from California, E-40, all make wonderful appearances, but this song is carried by Turk who provides the most hard-hitting hook of the album: “Why you blockin us, blockin us, you niggas can keep tryin ain’t no stoppin us.” Add in masterful production, and this track remains ageless, and easily has replay value 20 years later.
Shortly after Juvenile spit the lyrics “Baby let me get the keys to the Rover Truck” during his feature on the Big Tymers’ hit song “#1 Stunna” in June of 2000, Cash Money’s star artist soon turned those lyrics into a persuasive chorus. From the flow switches, to pre-Katrina NOLA descriptions, Juvenile’s classic cadence and accent fit well here in any era. In fact, in today’s hip-hop landscape of shortened tracks it may shine even brighter.
If Juvenile was the star of Cash Money in 2000, B.G. was the glue guy. He continues to make his mark as arguably the best story teller among his labelmates with the smoothest riding song on the album. B.G always could make a catchy chorus, and this track is no different.
If you ask most people outside of New Orleans today which album this song came from, you’re bound to get a myriad of incomplete answers. To be fair, that’s also a testament to the quantity and quality of music Cash Money was dropping at the time. Yet still, if you visit the right house party (post-COVID-19 of course), you will probably hear this banger on the playlist. As a matter of fact, just randomly blurt out in a crowd, “Give me a project chick, give me a hoodrat chick.” I guarantee you somebody is finishing the lyrics for you. It’s the, “One call, that’s all” of hooks.
“I Got To GO”
If you don’t remember the name T.Q. you’ll certainly remember the voice. T.Q.’s melody and fast-paced story on the run would thrive today and deserves a spin whether you’re reliving the days, or introducing yourself to a piece of NOLA history. Several songs on this soundtrack are capable of being randomly stuck in your head, but this one ranks the highest. —Kevin Barrios & Chris Conner
On the Rocks is Sofia Coppola’s first outing since the doomy post-Civil War drama The Beguiled. It also serves as a reunion with muse Bill Murray, first begun 17 years earlier with Lost In Translation, a film which made many of us first take notice of the young progeny of Mr. Godfather himself. Much has changed since those heady days of 2003, but Ms. Coppola’s sensibilities have not. On the Rocks is a two-hander, paying homage not only to an older New York—where well-connected men in two-piece suits drink noontime martinis and croon Sinatra numbers from the back of black town cars—but an older type of cinema as well. The plot is something straight out of ‘40s screwball: philandering playboy Felix (Bill Murray), suspecting his son-in-law Dean (the great Marlon Wayans) of having an affair (takes one to know one, right?), persuades his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones) they must get to the bottom of the matter with a bit of spying, sending them breathlessly across Manhattan and eventually going international, all the while Felix’s rakishness stirring up old resentments. Many may find this leading man’s narcissism off-putting—his credos on the mating habits of our species nauseating—were he not so goddamn likable. It’s Bill Murray for chrissakes! And though the film lets us make up our own minds on marital fidelity, every scene between this father-daughter pair is movie magic. —Derek
Few people know more about Louis Armstrong than lifelong Satchmo devotee Ricky Riccardi. His day job is being the Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, but his efforts towards preserving the music icon’s legacy go far beyond that role. He has already written an excellent book about Armstrong’s later years, produced several Armstrong reissues, and frequently lectures at New Orleans’ annual Satchmo SummerFest. His second book, Heart Full of Rhythm, dives deep into Armstrong’s frequently overlooked big band years. Most folks know the pioneering hot jazz trumpet playing of Armstrong’s early years or the unforgettable vocal hits of his later years, but many have lost sight of what happened in between. The jazz fans who do recall Armstrong’s big band years typically toss them aside as a descent from grace where he transitioned away from their preferred stylings and went commercial. Indeed, Armstrong became the first King of Pop, decades prior to Michael Jackson. Riccardi tells the story of Armstrong’s transformation into a box-office-record smasher with the type of depth that has come to be expected of him. This book details everything from behind the scenes show business gangsters fighting over Armstrong to the Black star’s struggles to navigate Jim Crow America. While many jazz fans disregard Armstrong’s big band years, Riccardi proves there is a lot to take away from them. —William Archambeault
New Orleans-born artist Walter Anderson produced thousands of works during his lifetime, including troves of watercolors of Gulf Coast nature scenes sealed within a locked, mural-lined room until his death. Among the spots where he captured the region’s beauty was Horn Island, a barrier island near his home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where Anderson traveled frequently by boat from the 1940s through the 1960s. This is a new edition of the long-out-of-print journals Anderson compiled on his trips there, plus vibrant color prints of his paintings of birds, butterflies, crabs, and foliage. Entries are in chronological order, but it’s still a chaotic cache of Anderson’s meandering thoughts, with notes on rainstorms, biting insects, campsite coffee, and afternoon breezes delivered both drily and poetically. “Then I went to Rabbit Springs and found a fable,” Anderson writes after encountering a frog and a water moccasin. Barebones logs are intertwined around aphorisms and thoughts on nature and God—”The birds had flown and there was nothing for me to do but put my pants back on,” Anderson observes self-consciously after one such section—making the collection best sampled like an anthology of poetry, rather than read straight through as a memoir. —Steven Melendez
Fabi Reyna felt absent, looking over magazine racks of guitar and music gear publications. The only women gracing the covers were bikini models posed with an Ibanez between their legs like an object, not a musician. Reyna, a young Mexican-born guitarist, had recently toured with a punk band when she began She Shreds, “a magazine dedicated to femme guitarists and bassists,” within her Portland-based community. The response was immediate. There was a massive hole in the music industry, blatantly misrepresenting and marginalizing certain bodies. The small-run publication affirmed that women, LGBTQ, and women of color exist, are powerful, and should be a valued market in the guitar industry. Now after eight years of alliance, revolution, and growth, She Shreds has released its final print publication before transitioning to an exclusively digital format. Issue 20, The Death and Rebirth Issue, has two cover variations: H.E.R and Willow Smith, two incredible musicians, and both POC. Among the glossy pages are articles like “The Evolution of Women Musicians in Mainstream Coverage” and “End the Corporate Exploitation of Artists.” The pages are dense, the cover is textured, and the magazine’s weight in your hands feels like vindication. —Danielle Dietze